The Battle of Chickamauga and the Horrors of War

I can think of nothing more terrifying than being in combat with other human beings. Typical Halloween frights don’t scare me, but the thought of men wielding guns, tanks, combat aircraft, and conventional or nuclear-tipped missiles is very frightening. I sympathize with the people of Ukraine and especially the soldiers who are defending freedom and democracy in a large-scale war taking place now. In pop culture war and horror go hand-in-hand in movies and books. There used to be a comic book entitled Weird War Tales published from 1971-1983 by DC comics. The stories involved killing, maiming, torture, and psychological trauma with the added element of the supernatural. What better way to keep a kid awake late into the night? In reality war is horrible enough without a supernatural element.

Weird War Tales was a popular comic book from 1971-1983. For Halloween this year, I can think of nothing more terrifying than men killing each other at the behest of their governments.

The Battle of Chickamauga was 2nd only to Gettysburg as the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. A few months before this battle General Rosencrans of the Union Army outflanked General Bragg of the Confederate Army in a brilliant tactical maneuver and forced them to retreat from Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Union Army advanced all the way to the Chickamauga Valley in North Georgia. General Bragg wanted to retake Chattanooga, and he chose to attack the Union Army in the Chickamauga Valley on September 19, 1863. The Confederates had a manpower advantage here with 65,000 troops vs 60,000 Union troops. The Union lines held on the first day of the battle. On the second day Rosencrans mistakenly thought there was a hole in his line, and he blundered by rushing thousands of reinforcements to where there was no gap in his line. This created an actual gap in his line, and the Confederates pushed through, forcing the Union Army to retreat. The Union Army did fight a successful rearguard action to cover their retreat back to Chattanooga where they spent the winter. The Battle of Chickamauga left Confederates with 18,454 casualties and the Union with 16,170 casualties.

Map of the Battle of Chickamauga. The Union lost this battle due to a General’s blunder.
Union and Confederate soldiers killed each other in the woods and fields at this location. Snodgrass Hill is where Union troops successfully fought a rearguard action, allowing them to retreat back to Chattanooga.
Imagine dead bodies strewn about this split rail fence.
Staring down the barrel of a cannon. Some of the new repeating rifles had a longer range than artillery during the Civil War. Imagine hundreds of bayonet wielding soldiers running up this hill toward you, seemingly coming out of nowhere from the smoke, dust, and shadows.
Imagine trying to poke a hole through someone with that bayonet. Imagine trying to stop an enemy soldier from trying to poke a hole through you, when you just ran out of bullets.

This battle marked the first widespread use of the Spencer repeating rifle, a weapon capable of firing 14 rounds per minute compared to just 2-3 rounds per minute for the average rifle or musket of the time. Union soldiers were shocked at how fast they could mow down Confederate soldiers at once. It was a sign of what would happen in future wars. The bullets used during the Civil War, known as Minie balls, were so large they caused traumatic damage to any limb struck. This explains why there were so many amputations during the Civil War. Even modern medical technology couldn’t salvage a limb struck by a Minie ball. Amputation was the only treatment then, and if Minie balls were used today amputation might also be the only option. Anesthesia was in its infancy and not always available then. Getting a limb sawn off without anesthesia must have been a horrible ordeal

When southern apologists claim black people fought on their side, what they mean is yes, some of them brought their slaves with them. This slave saved his master from a gruesome unnecessary leg amputation by sneaking him out of the hospital. The richer soldiers brought their body servants with them. A body servant was a slave that helped their master get dressed (and probably helped them wipe their ass too).
This man fought for the Union at The Battle of Chickamauga. He later became a lawyer and unsuccessfully argued in front of the Supreme Court against the separate but equal educational system in Plessy vs Ferguson.

Following the Union defeat, General Bragg occupied the heights surrounding Chattanooga. He planned to lay siege to Chattanooga instead of directly attacking it. Many military strategists have criticized this decision. General Grant replaced General Rosencrans. Eventually, the Union Army chased the Confederates away from the heights surrounding Chattanooga. Over the winter General Grant improved Union supply lines in this region, and in the spring he unleashed General Sherman and his troops on the Confederacy, leading to Sherman’s march through Georgia and the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy.

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