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My badge for biking the Chickamauga battlefield

My badge for biking the Chickamauga battlefield

The Civil War Battle of Chickamauga is very familiar to me. I have spent many days on that battlefield. Besides the history it’s also a great place to ride a bike.

The battle is a contrast of opposing officers. Braxton Bragg on the Confederate side is hated by his men and most of his officers are in mutiny and want him replaced; but Bragg has air-cover: he’s a good friend of Jefferson Davis and Davis is loyal to a fault. William S. Rosecrans, on the other hand is loved by his men. “Old Rosey” as he’s affectionally called, is known for his late night talks with his officers, often about religion. Bragg’s officers are recalcitrant and his orders during the battle are often ignored or delayed—but, Bragg’s army wins the battle. How? Two factors: 1) the imaginary hole in the line and 2) the arrival, from Virginia of James Longstreet from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

The Hole That Didn’t Exist
On the second day of the battle, the combatants were lined up facing each other across the Lafayette Road. The Federals were on the west side of the road and, for the R-2most part in good position. If they held their ground, they would probably carry the day. “Old Rosey’s” army was used to beating Bragg, having done so at Stone’s River and throughout the Tullahoma campaign earlier that year. This time would be different. In what is still a bit of a mystery, Rosecrans received intel that there was a hole in his line that was about to be exploited by the Confederates. Rosecrans quickly ordered General Thomas Wood’s men to plug the hole. Only, there was not a hole—at least not until Wood pulled his men out of line to plug the imaginary hole. Then there was a large gap and into this gap, rushed the men of…

James Longstreet
James Longstreet and his men had just arrived from Virginia that day and the day before. In one of the first uses of rail, Longstreet’s men made a remarkable journey over rickety rails that were not all the same gauge (distance between the rails). Most traveled in cattle cars or on flatbeds, exposed to the elements.

As Wood pulled his troops out of line, Longstreet’s men charged—the charge was planned before Wood’s actions, it was happenstance that Wood’s men opened the gate at that precise moment. There was no plugging the gap. Longstreet’s men pushed the Yankees all the way back to Snodgrass Hill, where Federal General George Thomas saved the Federals from complete annihilation—but that’s another story, perhaps for tomorrow’s letter S.

William S. Rosecrans

William S. Rosecrans

William Rosecrans’ career was ruined. He never held a significant post again. He was briefly considered as Abraham Lincoln’s running mate in the 1864 election and he later was a Congressman from California, but his military career was in the toilet after the Battle of Chickamauga.

Leadership Lessons

  1. Always double check your intel. There’s a lot of false information being passed on as fact.
  2. Sometimes it’s better to stay with the status quo instead of moving things around.
  3. Trust your subordinates, but always verify.
  4. When an opportunity presents itself, even by happenstance, plunge in with all your might.
  5. A failure does not mean the end. Rosecrans had a moderately successful career after the war.