Report of General Braxton Bragg, C. S. Army, commanding Army of Tennessee, with field dispatches, etc.
NOVEMBER 23-27, 1863.--The Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXI/2 [S# 55]
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
Dalton, Ga., November 30, 1863.
General S. COOPER,
Adjt. and Insp. Gen., C. S. Army, Richmond.
SIR: On Monday, the 23d, the enemy advanced in heavy force and drove in our picket line in front of Missionary Ridge, but made no further effort.
On Tuesday morning early they threw over the river a heavy force opposite the north end of the ridge and just below the mouth of the Chickamauga, at the same time displaying a heavy force in our immediate front. After visiting the right and making dispositions there for the new development in that direction, I returned toward the left to find a heavy cannonading going on from the enemy's batteries on our forces occupying the slope of Lookout Mountain between the crest and the river. A very heavy force soon advanced to the assault, and was met by one brigade only (Walthall's) which made a desperate resistance, but was finally compelled to yield ground. Why this command was not sustained is yet unexplained. The commander on that part of the field (Major-General Stevenson) had six brigades at his disposal. Upon his urgent appeal another brigade was dispatched in the afternoon to his support, though it appeared his own forces had not been brought into action and I proceeded to the scene. Arriving just before sunset, I found we had lost all the advantages of the position. Orders were immediately given for the ground to be disputed until we could withdraw our forces across Chattanooga Creek, and the movement was commenced. This having been successfully accomplished, our whole forces were concentrated on the ridge and extended to the right to meet the movement in that direction.
On Wednesday, the 25th, I again visited the extreme right, now under Lieutenant-General Hardee, and threatened by a heavy force, while strong columns could be seen marching in that direction. A very heavy force in line of battle confronted our left and center.
On my return to this point, about 11 a.m., the enemy's forces were being moved in heavy masses from Lookout and beyond to our front, while those in front extended to our right. They formed their lines with great deliberation just beyond the range of our guns and in plain view of our position. Though greatly outnumbered, such was the strength of our position that no doubt was entertained of our ability to hold it, and every disposition was made for that purpose. During this time they had made several attempts on our extreme right, and had been handsomely repulsed with very heavy loss by Major-General Cleburne's command, under the immediate direction of Lieutenant-General Hardee. By the road across the ridge at Rossville, far to our left, a route was open to our rear. Major-General Breckinridge, commanding on the left, had occupied this with two regiments and a battery. It being reported to me that a force of the enemy had moved in that direction, the general was ordered to have it reconnoitered, and to make every disposition necessary to secure his flank, which he proceeded to do.
About 3.30 p.m. the immense force in the front of our left and center advanced in three lines, preceded by heavy skirmishers. Our batteries opened with fine effect, and much confusion was produced before they reached musket range.
In a short time the roar of musketry became very heavy, and it was soon apparent that the enemy had been repulsed in my immediate front. While riding along the crest congratulating the troops, intelligence reached me that our line was broken on my right and the enemy had crowned the ridge. Assistance was promptly dispatched to that point, under Brigadier-General Bate, who had so successfully maintained the ground in my front, and I proceeded to the rear of the broken line to rally our retiring troops and return them to the crest to drive the enemy back. General Bate found the disaster so great that his small force could not repair it.
About this time I learned that our extreme left had also given way, and that my position was almost surrounded. Bate was immediately directed to form a second line in the rear, where, by the efforts of my staff, a nucleus of stragglers had been formed upon which to rally. Lieutenant-General Hardee, leaving Major-General Cleburne in command on the extreme right, moved toward the left when he heard the heavy firing in that direction. He reached the right of Anderson's division just in time to find it had nearly all fallen back, commencing on its left, where the enemy had first crowned the ridge. By a prompt and judicious movement he threw a portion of Cheatham's division directly across the ridge facing the enemy, who was now moving a strong force immediately on his left flank. By a decided stand here the enemy was entirely checked, and that portion of our force to the right remained intact.
All to the left, however, except a portion of Bate's division, was entirely routed and in rapid flight, nearly all the artillery having been shamefully abandoned by its infantry support. Every effort which could be made by myself and staff and by many other mounted officers availed but little. A panic which I had never before witnessed seemed to have seized upon officers and men, and each seemed to be struggling for his personal safety, regardless of his duty or his character. In this distressing and alarming state of affairs, General Bate was ordered to hold his position, covering the road for the retreat of Breckinridge's command, and orders were immediately sent to Generals Hardee and Breckinridge to retire their forces upon the depot at Chickamauga.
Fortunately, it was now near nightfall, and the country and roads in our rear were fully known to us, but equally unknown to the enemy. The routed left made its way back in great disorder, effectually covered, however, by Bate's small command, which had a sharp conflict with the enemy's advance, driving it back. After night, all being quiet, Bate retired in good order, the enemy attempting no pursuit.
Lieutenant-General Hardee's command, under his judicious management, retired in good order and unmolested.
As soon as all troops had crossed, the bridges over the Chickamauga were destroyed to impede the enemy, though the stream was fordable at several places.
No satisfactory excuse can possibly be given for the shameful conduct of our troops on the left in allowing their line to be penetrated. The position was one which ought to have been held by a line of skirmishers against any assaulting column, and wherever resistance was made the enemy fled in disorder after suffering heavy loss. Those who reached the ridge did so in a condition of exhaustion from the great physical exertion in climbing, which rendered them powerless, and the slightest effort would have destroyed them. Having secured much of our artillery, they soon availed themselves of our panic, and, turning our guns upon us, enfiladed the lines, both right and left, rendering them entirely untenable.
Had all parts of the line been maintained with equal gallantry and persistence no enemy could ever have dislodged us, and but one possible reason presents itself to my mind in explanation of this bad conduct in veteran troops who had never before failed in any duty assigned them, however difficult and hazardous. They had for two days confronted the enemy, marshaling his immense forces in plain view, and exhibiting to their sight such a superiority in numbers as may have intimidated weak-minded and untried soldiers; but our veterans had so often encountered similar hosts when the strength of position was against us, and with perfect success, that not a doubt crossed my mind. As yet I am not fully informed as to the commands which first fled and brought this great disaster and disgrace upon our arms. Investigation will bring out the truth, however, and full justice shall be done to the good and the bad.
After arriving at Chickamauga and informing myself of the full condition of affairs, it was decided to put the army in motion for a point farther removed from a powerful and victorious army, that we might have some little time to replenish and recuperate for another struggle. The enemy made pursuit as far as Ringgold, but was so handsomely checked by Major-General Cleburne and Brigadier-General Gist, in command of their respective divisions, that he gave us but little annoyance.
Lieutenant-General Hardee, as usual, is entitled to my warmest thanks and high commendation for his gallant and judicious conduct during the whole of the trying scenes through which we passed.
Major-General Cleburne, whose command defeated the enemy in every assault on the 25th, and who eventually charged and routed him on that day, capturing several stand of colors and several hundred prisoners, and who afterward brought up our rear with great success, again charging and routing the pursuing column at Ringgold on the 27th, is commended to the special notice of the Government.
Brigadier-Generals Gist and Bate, commanding divisions; Cumming, Walthall, and Polk, commanding brigades, were distinguished for coolness, gallantry, and successful conduct throughout the engagements and in the rear guard on the retreat.
To my staff, personal and general, my thanks are specially due for their gallant and zealous efforts under fire to rally the broken troops and restore order, and for their laborious services in conducting successfully the many and arduous duties of the retreat.
Our losses are not yet ascertained, but in killed and wounded it is known to have been very small. In prisoners and stragglers I fear it is much larger. The chief of artillery reports the loss of forty pieces.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
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