Early morning, September 20, 1863. In this field just south of the McDonald farm all is quiet. The men of John Beatty’s brigade screen the left flank of the Union Army, positioned from the present day visitor center to the field across the street from you. The main Union line stretched from present day Battle Line Road and tour stop 2 just east of here, all the way south of the present day park boundaries. All along this question mark shaped line, Union soldiers frantically build breastworks to prepare for the attack that they know will come at any moment.
For two days the Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by William Rosecrans, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Braxton Bragg, have slugged it out through the woods and fields along the banks of the Chickamauga Creek. Earlier that summer, the Union Army moved south from its positions around Murfreesoboro, Tennessee, with its sights set on capturing Chattanooga. Chattanooga was the “Gateway to the Confederacy,” situated at an intersection of river and rail, and it guarded one of the few gaps in the Cumberland Plateau. If the Union Army captured Chattanooga, then the road to Atlanta and the Confederate heartland would be wide open. After maneuvering Braxton Bragg first out of middle Tennessee and then out of Chattanooga, the divided Union army crossed Lookout Mountain to the south. After a series of engagements around McLemore’s Cove, 10 miles south of this position, both armies began to move north towards Chattanooga. On September 18th, Bragg ordered a portion of his army to cross Chickamauga Creek ahead of Rosecrans and block the army’s route back to Chattanooga. As these Confederates reached the creek crossing at Alexander’s Bridge, in the southeastern comer of the battlefield, and Reed's Bridge, to the east of the Visitor's Center, they encountered unexpected resistance. Dismounted Union soldiers guarded the crossings, and stubborn resistance by these Union troopers hampered Confederate attempts to cross the bridges throughout the day. Finally that evening, overwhelming Confederate numbers pushed their way across the creek. The next day, September 19, both armies funneled more and more troops into the battlefield. Beginning at Jay’s Mill, east of here, armies collided haphazardly into each other in a bloody chaos that one Union officer later described as “Bushwhacking on a grand scale.” That night Braxton Bragg reorganized his army and planned for a dawn attack, to be launched in this sector by General John C. Breckenridge.
Delays and mismanagement plagued the Confederate command, and the attack did not begin until mid-morning on September 20. Suddenly, Confederates under the command of General Daniel Adams poured around the left flank of the Union line by the present day visitor center, and Marcellus Stovall’s Floridians men crashed through the trees into the field across from you, their position marked by the Florida State monument. Across these fields Stovall’s and Adams’ men charged, routing Beatty’s brigade. Supporting the assault was the famed Washington Artillery from New Orleans commanded by Captain Cuthbert Slocomb. Slocomb’s Battery was one of the most famous units in the Confederate Army, having been in existence as a pre-war militia since the 1830s. As the Confederates charged forward, Slocomb placed his guns here in this position and began firing south, into the flank and rear of the Union army. For the Confederates in this field, it must have seemed like victory was inevitable, but it was not without cost. Major Rice Graves, General Breckenridge’s chief of artillery, was struck in the stomach behind just Slocomb’s Battery. The artillerists pulled Graves north into the ditch between here and the visitor’s center. Knowing his wound was mortal, Graves said to the men, “Boys…I know you think that I prefer my old battery to yours. It is not so. There is none I admire and love more than yours. I wish a detail of your boys to carry me off and to remain with me until I die.”