Yesterday in my post on William Rosecrans I wrote about the Confederate break-through of the Federal line in the Battle of Chickamauga and the subsequent saving of the day on Snodgrass Hill by General George Thomas. The stand on Snodgrass Hill is a very interesting vignette at the end of the battle.
George Thomas was one of those rare Federal generals who hailed from the Confederacy. Thomas was born in Virginia, but chose to side with the Union when war broke out. He was never able to return home. He was shunned. In those days, if you were shunned, relatives did not take your picture down—they simply turned it around and left it hanging on the wall as a reminder of your duplicity.
The Federals retreated to Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge (Snodgrass Hill was the base of the Horseshoe) when James Longstreet’s troops pushed them back. (An interesting aside: the uniforms of the Army of Northern Virginia were cadet blue, not gray like the Confederate uniforms in the west; on that dusty battlefield, Federal troops sometimes thought the approaching line were friends, not enemies.) Snodgrass/Horse Ridge, sits atop a steep incline—so the Federal troops dug in while the Confederate troops had to advance up towards them. High ground in the Civil War was everything and it played a crucial role in this day’s fighting.
A lot of people, when they tour a battlefield, usually follow the car-tour route that each park hands out. Those tours are good, but are made even better if you get out of the car and walk the ground. Combine walking the grounds with a good tour book and you’ll get a much better picture of the action and come away understanding exactly what happened. I recommend the series, This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War Battlefields. I have walked the ground of Snodgrass and Horseshoe Ridge. I have climbed the ridge, as the Confederates did and have peered down from above as the Federals did.
The Federals held out and were able to execute an ordered retreat that night.
- Know the terrain and use it to your advantage. Terrain usually does not mean ground in this day and age—it usually means, culture of the company, who’s who and how to get things done.
On the left flank of Horseshoe, troops would take turns firing, then retiring down the backside of the hill to reload—using terrain for advantage.
- If the first tactic does not work, then try something else—continually charging up the hill and being beat back time and again should make you think of trying a different way.
- If possible, be the one with superior fire power.
Many of the Federal troops had repeating rifles. The Confederates had single shot, muzzle loading rifles. This meant that Federal troops could get off 7 shots to a typical 3 shots for the Confederates. Some of the Federal troops were equipped with Colt repeating rifles, which, while being an advantage, could also be hazardous to the trooper firing the weapon. If the gun got too hot, all six bullets could discharge, tearing through the hand and forearm of the man firing the weapon.
- Sometimes you have to go against family and do what you believe is the right thing to do. General George Thomas made such a choice; his choice and bravery, save the day and earned him the nickname The Rock of Chickamauga.