The Tenth Kentucky Infantry at Chickamauga
After the Battle of Stone’s River, General William Rosecrans out-positioned and maneuvered the Army of Tennessee out of central Tennessee through Chattanooga. On September 18, 1863, Gen Braxton Bragg decided to take the offensive and the result was one of the dramatic battles of the Civil War.
The organization of the Army of the Cumberland in September 1863 in regard to the 10th Kentucky Infantry is as follows
General William S. Rosecrans Major General – Army of the Cumberland
General George H. Thomas Major General – 14th Corps
Brig General John H. Brannan – 3rd Division
Col. John T. Croxton – Second Brigade
Col. William H. Hays, Lieut. Col. G. C. Wharton – 10th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry
Along with the 10th Kentucky, the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division was made up of the:
4th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Lieut. Col. P. Burgress Hunt, Major Robert Kelly
14th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Lieut. Col. Henry D. Kingsbury
10th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Col. William B. Carroll, Lt. Col. Marsh Taylor
74th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Col. Myron Baker
The 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division of the 14th Corps was one of the first units that was engaged in the Battle of Chickamauga on Saturday, September 19, 1863 and would have extensive combat throughout the next two days. The result being significant loss in number of men wounded, missing or killed. In fact, the 2nd Brigade lost 938 men over the 2 day battle, second only to Brig General Whitaker’s 1st Brigade, 1st Division of Maj General Gordon Granger’s Reserve Corps made up of 6 infantry regiments.
For the Union army, their contact with the Confederates occurred on September 18 when General Gordon Granger’s unit battled near Reed’s Bridge. Col Robert Minty ran into McNair’s brigade of Bushrod Johnson’s division on the evening of September 18th. Col Dan McCook, in the early morning of September 19th, unaware that Johnson’s division and Walker’s Corps were on the west side of the Chickamauga, “ told Gen George Thomas that a single Confederate brigade was isolated west of the creek on Reed’s Bridge road.”(4) McCook believed that he could capture this isolated brigade.
Thomas ordered Brannan to advance and put the Union Army in an attack posture just a Bragg was trying to seize that initiative himself. (4)
The 2nd Brigade, 10th Kentucky, and 4 sister regiments were called to action while preparing for breakfast on the 19th at approximately 7:00 AM when they received orders to move against the “lone” confederate brigade. The 2nd Brigade had marched all night on the evening of the 18th to be in proper position. The brigade was quickly marched into battle down a farmer’s lane mistaking it for Reed’s Bridge road. The lane actually paralleled the intended route. The 4th Kentucky was deployed on the left, the 10th Indiana took the center and the 74th Indiana was positioned on the right. The 10th Kentucky and the 14th Ohio followed as the reserve units. The 10th Indiana provided skirmishers. The 2nd Brigade had mustered a total effective force of 2164, excluding artillery going into the morning of September 19th. (5)
The skirmish line found the Confederate units ahead. The skirmishers quickly hurried back to their lines followed closely by their quarry, which was none other than Nathan Bedford Forest’s 10th Confederate Cavalry commanded by Gen H. B. Davidson. The cavalry was stopped and sent scampering back toward their lines by a volley from the 10th Indiana. Then skirmishers were re-deployed and the advance continued. (1)
Forest and other officers restored their line after the 2nd Brigade stopped the cavalry. Forest formed a line of resistance and the 2nd Brigade’s advance was halted. Forest sent an urgent plea for assistance. (1)
Croxton sent word of this conflict and Brannan responded by dispatching Vandermeer’s unit forward to support the second brigade. The 10th Kentucky during this time was still in a reserve role along with the 14th Ohio. (1) It was quickly learned that “instead of confronting an isolated brigade, Croxton was facing two strongly posted Confederate divisions.” (4)
The request for assistance from Forest resulted in Col. George Dibrell brigade from Polk’s Division being sent toward the action. Dibrell dismounted his troopers and deployed them into a line at 9:00AM that extended far beyond Croxton’s left. Dibrell’s position caused Croxton to deploy the 10th Kentucky to the left of the 4th Kentucky to meet Dibrell’s assault. The 14th Ohio was sent to the right of the 74th Indiana. (1)
Dibrell’s cavalry was no match for the infantry. Dibrell then tried to flank Croxton and find his rear but in this attempt ran directly into Vanderveer’s brigade hurrying in support. This clash occurred about 400 yards to the left and rear of the 10th Kentucky. Brannan, through Col. Connell, positioned the 31st Ohio in the rear of the 2nd Brigade should assistance be required. (1)
When Dibrell ran into Vanderveer’s units, Croxton was then able to turn his attention to the units in his front, those of General H B Davidson. As the second Brigade pushed forward, Davidson’s’ cavalry were pushed off their ridge three times only to return. Over one-third of the brigade was lost in this defense. Forest wanted to hold the 2nd brigade in check until infantry reinforcements could take over. (1)
After 9:00AM, Col. Claudius Wilson’s Georgia infantry brigade moved across Brotherton road toward Croxton right. Wilson’s infantry struck Croxton’s right flank less than 100 yards way. The undergrowth was so dense it was impossible to see other units in the vicinity. Wilson’s infantry had immediate success and the right side of the line was thrown back toward Lafayette Road. (3)
To counter this move the 10th Kentucky was moved from the left to the right to quickly meet the new challenge. Their volley into Wilson’s Georgia infantry momentarily stopped their advance. The 74th Indiana quickly reformed and moved to the right of the 10th Kentucky. Croxton realizing the immediate threat was from Wilson’s infantry, disengaged the brigade from the Davidson’s cavalry and turned to meet Wilson. (1)
It is often quoted that Croxton now sent word to Thomas the message asking him which of the 4 or 5 brigades he faced was he supposed to capture. (3)
The increased firing convinced Thomas that a major problem was occurring and as a result he sent Absalom Baird to relieve Croxton and the second brigade. Baird’s not only relieved Croxton but also positioned its units to take Wilson in his left flank. In addition, Brannan sent the 31st Ohio forward to support Croxton. The 31st was inserted on the left of Croxton’s line - probably left of the 74th Indiana. (1)
“Seeing the enemy about to turn my left flank, I ordered a charge and drove them in confusion some 200 yards, when I was compelled to fall back to the crest of the hill originally occupied by me.” William H. Hays, Col. 10th Kentucky Infantry. (5)
Wilson's Georgians had already pushed the 2 nd Brigade back 400 yards. This was approximately 10:30AM and the 2nd Brigade had been fighting most of the morning with Forest's cavalry and now with Wilson's infantry and their ammunition was all but depleted. Col William Carroll was mortally wounded and left behind as the line moved backward. (1)
Intense fighting took place in the dense woods. “According to Col. Hays “…we met the enemy in force and had a hotly contested fight, Company B alone, of my regiment, losing in one hour 20 men killed or wounded.”(5)
Thomas’s relief for Croxton arrived with not a moment to spare. General John King’s regular U. S. Army Brigade arrived behind Croxton’s brigade. The First Battalion U. S. Infantry filed through the left side of Croxton’s line and opened up on Wilson’s Georgians. The remaining part of the U. S. Army Brigade was delayed and was lined up too far to the east and the First Battalion was left to face Wilson alone. Additional help was on the way from General Absalom Baird’s Divisions including, King and Scribner as well as Starkweather. Starkweather filed through Croxton’s line as the 2nd Briagade fell back for ammunition. This was approximately 11:00 AM. The 2nd Brigade had been in action for over 4 hours. But the day was not over yet for the 10th Kentucky and the rest of the 2nd Brigade. (1)
The Brigade withdrew to rest and replenish their ammunition after being in the line for over four hours. Col’s Starkweather and Scribner of Absalom Baird’s Division dealt with Wilson’s Brigade, which fell back toward Jay’s Mill Road, but was soon to be replaced with two Brigades of Govan’s Arkansasians and Whathall’s Mississippians. A desperate struggle occurred between these units. (1)
To stem the success that Whathall and Govan were having, Croxton’s 2nd Brigade was again ordered back into the fray. Croxton now had control of six regiments, including, the 31st Ohio. He ordered them into battle line and exchanged fire with Arkansas regiments for about 30 minutes. Croxton had divided control of the Brigade with Col Chapman of the 74th being in charge of the right half. The line going into battle was, from left to right – 14th Ohio, 4th Kentucky, 74th Indiana, 10th Indiana, 10th Kentucky, and 31st Ohio. (5)
While Govan was preparing a charge into the 2nd Brigade, the 2nd Brigade made a charge of their own. According to Col William Hays that “Finding the enemy very stubborn, my men being shot in large numbers, and seeing what I supposed to be a battery of artillery in post ahead of me, I ordered a bayonet charge, which was received with loud cheers by my men; the Tenth Indiana and Thirty-First Ohio both came gallantly to my assistance, and we completely routed the rebels, …”(5)
Govan’s Arkansas regiment was beaten and “broke in confusion” a few minutes before noon. The 2nd Brigade’s work was still not done for the day. (1)
Brannan’s counterattack with Croxton resulted in the capture of the ground taken by Whathall and Govan and also the recapture of Baird’s artillery lost earlier. (2)
By 2:30 PM, Brannan’s Division was stationed along the north of the battlefield along Alexander Bridge Road to rest and re-supply. Major General Alexander Stewart’s Division had great success penetrating the center of Rosecrans line at 4:00 PM and Brannan’s Division was moved to support and positioned itself for the upcoming events on the 20th.
“Upon being relieved I fell back as ordered about one-half mile in a southwesterly direction and rested until 4:00 P M, when I received an order to march with the brigade. We proceeded in a southwest course until we struck the main Georgia State road, near which we took a position about 3 miles from the first position occupied by the regiment. Here we remained quiet until dark, when, by order of Col. John T Croxton, I moved my men to the rear three-quarters of a mile and camped for the night.” (5) William H. Hays
The movement of the division was important in halting the confederate activity
and stabilized the Union line at the close of the day.
DAY 3 – SEPT. 20, 1863
One of the most important events in the 3-day battle was the controversial movement of General Wood’s division out of the union line at 10:30 – 11:00 AM. The order and its execution have been open to debate since the movement occurred over 135 years ago. Regardless of the blame, Gen Thomas Wood pulled his 3 brigades out of line just as nearly 11,000 confederate soldiers received the order to advance against that same section. Wave after wave of confederates poured through the union line on the right and the 2nd brigade with the 10th Kentucky had the unfortunate luck to be only one brigade removed from this massive hole through which thousands of enemy troops streamed.
Col William Hays writes, “The battle opened on our front about 9:00AM and continued until about 10:30 or 11:00.” The 10th and 74th Indiana were in the union line facing east throughout the morning while the 10th Kentucky, 4th Kentucky and 14th Ohio were in reserve positions. The two Indiana regiments were involved with the early engagements with the enemy that morning.
Col. Hays explains that as Woods moved out of line as the confederates stormed through the resulting hole that “when the troops on our right gave way the enemy completely flanking us on the right in a large force. I immediately formed my regiment by filing to the right on a line perpendicular to the one just occupied, but held this position but a few minutes. “(5)
Brannan, on Woods left, was struck in front and flank. His right was flung back; his left stood fast. Wave after wave of Confederates came on, resistance only increased their attitude. (6) North of the gap, Brannan’s division found itself assailed in flank and rear but resisted stoutly for a time before giving way and joining the rapidly developing route.
Col Connell commanded the doomed position adjacent to the north of the hole vacated by Wood. He saw what was happening, and sent word to Brannan. The sheer force of the Confederate break through and the confusion the resulted by attempting to shift his front led to the inevitable. (1)
Brannan ordered Croxton to pull in his right flank and the 10th Kentucky filed to the right side of the First Ohio Light Artillery. The 4th Kentucky and 74th Indiana were positioned to the left of the battery. (1) The 10th and 74th Indiana were not ordered to change front.
Sheffield and Bennings' division streamed through the ever widening hole. Col Croxton was posted on the right when Benning attacked the line. The 2nd Brigade loosed a volley into Benning. Benning closed to 40 yards when Croxton was shot in the leg. Facing Benning and Sheffield and being flanked the brigade split in two. The 10th Kentucky retreated along with the 14th Ohio and 4th Kentucky. The 10th and 74th Indiana were lead to Gen Reynolds' line by Lt. Col. Marsh Taylor where they remained throughout the day. (1)
When Croxton was wounded, command passed to Col. William Hays for what remained of the 2nd Brigade. Col Hays tried to hold the brigade together without success. The collapse on Thomas's right was complete by 11:45 AM. (1)
Col Hays writes "We were overwhelmed by numbers, and the enemy continued to flank us. Our loss at this point was very great. It was here that the gallant Captain Bevill fell mortally wounded. Col. John T. Croxton, our brigade commander, was wounded at the same time. I then moved the regiment to the left, near the house on the hill, Col Croxton's wounds not permitting him to remain on the field, I took command of the brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Wharton took command of the regiment." (5)
Gen Brannan described the events occurring near Lafayette road at 11:00Am as follows “Wood being taken while marching by flank, broke and fled in confusion and my line actually attacked from the rear, was obliged to swing back on the right, which it accomplished with wonderful regularity under such circumstances (with, however, the exception of a portion of the First Brigade, which, being much exposed, broke with considerable disorder.
The line being now broken, and severely pressed at this point, and great confusion prevailing in the supports. I formed the remnant of my command… in line to resist, if possible, the pressure of the now advancing rebels.”(6)
Col Kingbury of the 14th Ohio described the event as “We were in this position when the line on our right was turned, and held the position until the right was so far driven back that the enemy held position in our rear, and were forced to retire.”(7)
General Brannan began organizing a second line of defense on what was to be named Horseshoe Ridge. The 10th Kentucky, most of the 14th Ohio and about 45 men of the 4th Kentucky would spend the next 5 hours. The defense of Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill would become on the legendary defenses of the Civil War. Regardless of the confusion, the great opportunities given and taken by both sides, the Army of the Cumberland refused to be destroyed and fought admirably under the control of Gen. Thomas. This 5-hour period led to Thomas’ nickname the Rock of Chickamauga. General Thomas established a
defense around the Snodgrass homestead with the units he could find to form a line of defense.
To the southeast of the Snodgrass homestead was a group of 3 hills that formed the southern defense of Thomas’s line. Units were thrown into position to prepare to meet the confederate army. These 3 hills area formed part of “Horseshoe Ridge.”
While the defense around the Snodgrass farm was being formed, General William Rosecrans returned to Chattanooga and left this area under Gen Thomas’ control.
“After retreating, the 10th Kentucky along with fragments of the 4th Kentucky and 14th Ohio formed a line on Hill Two of Horseshoe Ridge. They were ordered to hold the line.
At 1:00 General Joseph Kershaw’s division moved against all 3 hills of Horseshoe Ridge. “The 3rd South Carolina Battalion and the 3rd South Carolina,…, had come at Hill Two by ways of the knoll in the Dyer Field…come upon its crest, the South Carolinians were exposed to a heavy fire from Brannan's Federals on Hill Two… two hundred yards to the north”(1)
About 1:15 Kershaw assaulted Hill One and the 82nd Indiana took the major thrust. Stanley’s brigade rushed to stem the confederate assault. At this time the 3rd S.Carolina Battalion and Regiment gained a toehold on the crest of Hill 2 held by the 14th Indiana and 10th Kentucky until forced off by enfilading fire from the 21st Ohio. (1) The confederates had been temporarily stopped on the right.
By 1:30, however, Anderson, Sugg and Fulton arrived to attack Horseshoe Ridge. The assault was primarily directed at the 21st Indiana, which made one of the most dramatic stands in the war. (1)
Gen Gordon Granger’s Reserve Corps was now poured into the fray and sent to support. At 3:00 P. M. Van Derveer’s Brigade relieved the 10th Kentucky where it had been in action against Kershaw since 1:00.
Col. Archibald Gracie’s brigade attacked Horseshoe Ridge Hill 1 and Snodgrass Hill at 4:00. At the heat of the battle, the 10th Kentucky came upon Van Derveer’s left and added it rifles to the defense of those 2 hills. The 10th and the rest of the army were fighting for its life at the same time Gen. Rosecrans arrived in Rossville and was sending a telegram relaying the disaster of the battle. By 6:00 P.M. the order to retire was received and the 10th moved to Rossville and moved to Chattanooga.
Lt Col Gabriel Wharton’s description of the 10th Kentucky’s activities on Horseshoe Ridge on the afternoon of the 20th is as follows. They held this position with only slight loss until 3:00 when Gen. Steedman’s Division relieved them. The 10th was allowed to rest for about a half an hour and replenish their ammunition. Then Steedman was “furiously assaulted” and the 10th were ordered back in line. (6) “The troops were forward with great determination at a double-quick, and took position behind a temporary fortification of rails, immediately on the left of the Third Brigade, Third Division, Fourteenth Army Corps, and poured a most destructive fire into the advancing columns of the enemy, which staggered them for a moment, but they rallied and advanced again and again. It seemed two or three times it would be impossible to hold our position, so overwhelming was the force of the enemy, but our troops, being partially screened by the rails, poured volley after volley into their masses, so well aimed that after three hours of most desperate fighting the enemy withdrew, just as our ammunition was exhausted and General Brannan had ordered the men to fix bayonets and receive the enemy on their points if they again advanced. During the whole fight the men never wavered or gave an inch, and the officers of my regiment were at their posts encouraging their men, several of them took the guns of their wounded men and shot away every cartridge in their boxes. The regiment suffered severely in this right. G C Wharton.”(8)
The 10th Kentucky entered the engagement on the 18th with 421 men and by dark on the 20th 256 remained. Over 166 were killed, missing on wounded in the 3-day battle.
General Brannan cited Lieutenant Dunn (missing), 10th Kentucky Infantry, topographical engineer, for “fearlessness and gallantry, carrying my orders under the severest fire, and using every effort to rally and encourage troops to return to their flag…” (9) General Brannan also recognized Colonel William Hays who”… commanded such portion of the Second Brigade of my division as were mustered on the ridge…, and behaved most gallantly during the entire action, keeping his command to the crest of the hill when he had not a cartridge left.” (9)
Chickamuaga was clearly a defeat for the union forces. The Army of the Cumberland had successfully positioned Bragg out of central Tennessee, but were soundly defeated here in north Georgia, however, the result of the defeat meant the end of Rosecrans as the head of the Army of the Cumberland, but his replacement was another type of general indeed.
For the 10th Kentucky, they lost approximately 40% of their force in this fight. They were effective in the second day's battle. They met the enemy and made progress against until supported. Then returned to the field to a strong and concentrated counter attack. In the second day, they lost their brigade commander and Col Hays moved to replace him and command the brigade. They retreated when flanked by superior forces, but reformed and made significant contributions to holding Horseshoe Hills 2 and 3. This defense was so important because it protected the rest of the army's rear.
(1) Peter Cozzens
(2) Woodworth – Six Armies in Tennessee
(3) Woodworth A Deep Steady Thunder
(4) Tucker – Chickamauga
(5) Official Records.