150 Years Ago This Week: Showdown in north Georgia

September 1863

Still another important Confederate center was taken by the Federals when Southerners evacuated Little Rock, Ark. Maj. Gen. Sterling Price and his Confederate troops withdrew to the towns of Arkadelphia and Rockport. Federal occupation now severely threatened Lt. Gen. Kirby Smith’s entire Trans-Mississippi area, already under attack by Brig. Gen. Frederick Steele’s Union expedition which moved across Arkansas from Helena.

Federal troops probed Confederate positions in Georgia, south of Chattanooga, Tenn. Gen. Braxton Bragg ordered an attack against Federal positions at McLemore’s Cove, but it never materialized. In Raleigh, N.C., Confederate soldiers ransacked the offices of the Standard, a pro-Union newspaper owned by editor William Holden, who advocated peace with the Union.

On Friday, Sept. 11, a small mutiny in Terrell’s Texas Cavalry was suppressed. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and his First Corps of Gen. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia were on railroad cars on their way to reinforce Gen. Bragg, whose army faced an increase in the Federal advance into northwest Georgia. There were also brief outbreaks of fighting near Ringgold, Va. and Rome, Ga.

In Washington, President Lincoln declined to accept the resignation of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, and the president asked Gov. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee to inaugurate a Union government at once, as he conferred with his Cabinet about the Federal stalemate in Charleston, S.C.

On Sunday, Sept. 13, while fighting intensified on the long military line from Chattanooga into north Georgia, Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac occupied Culpeper Courthouse in Virginia. This advance was triggered by a Confederate withdrawal by Gen. Lee, his army weakened by the loss of Gen. Longstreet’s corps to reinforce Gen. Bragg.

Culpeper County, one of the most fought-over counties during the war, again saw fighting at Stevensburg, Pony Mountain, Muddy Run, Brandy Station and the town of Culpeper itself as the Federals advanced and the Confederates withdrew toward the Rapidan River. Confederate cavalry seized 20 crewmen from the USS Rattler, a Union river gunboat, while they attended church in Rodney, Miss.

As a result of the existing “state of the rebellion,” President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus through the nation in cases where the U.S. military or civil authorities held persons under their command or in their custody. The president also instructed his army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, to order Gen. Meade to attack Gen. Lee’s army in Culpeper County at once. At that time, the bulk of Gen. Lee’s army was already across the Rapidan River into Orange County.

On Sept. 15, Gen. Bragg mustered all the forces he could find in north Georgia to oppose the continuing movements of the Union troops there. On James Island, in Charleston Harbor, S.C., a powder magazine at Battery Cleves exploded, killing six Confederate soldiers. The following day, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans started to concentrate his Federal Army of the Cumberland at Lee’s and Gordon’s Mills, on Chickamauga Creek in north Georgia, and several days of skirmishing between the opposing troops occurred.

President Davis wrote to Gen. Lee of his concern over the Confederate withdrawal from Chattanooga, and the “inexplicable” loss of Cumberland Gap, expressing hope that Gen. Bragg would be able to recover the ground he had lost.

The Chickamauga Campaign began on Friday, Sept. 18, when Gen. Rosecrans’ three army corps were within supporting distance of each other, concentrated along Chickamauga Creek. Gen. Bragg’s troops had failed three times to prevent this concentration of Union forces or mounted an attack against isolated Federal troops. He blamed his officers; Gen. Bragg’s officers blamed him, saying they were spoiling for a fight.

Gen. Longstreet’s troops began arriving in north Georgia after their 10-day train trip from Virginia. The stage was being set for what was to be the war’s bloodiest battle in the Western Theatre; it was prophetic that Chickamauga, the ancient Cherokee name for this creek, means “river of death.”

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.