Tour Stop 8: Snodgrass Hill
This is the cabin of George Washington Snodgrass. At the time of the battle, the farm consisted of a larger cabin and several outbuildings, and the field planted with corn.
As disaster struck the Federal right on September 20th, many of the men began fleeing north as individuals or as semi-organized units to this area. At this point, General George H, Thomas, the highest-ranking Federal officer still present on the field, assumed command of this patchwork line, but had very little time to prepare before the Confederates launched their first attacks.
One of the first attacks was made by the South Carolinians of Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw's Confederate brigade of Longstreet's Corps. One South Carolinian later wrote that "Kershaw had advanced to within forty paces of the enemy's line and it seemed for a time that his troops would be annihilated...men were being mown down like grain before a sickle." Three times Kershaw attempted to storm these positions and three times he was beaten back.
As the afternoon wore on, attack after attack was made against the Federals, but all were beaten back. On the Federal right, the 21st Ohio Infantry beat back repeated Confederate assaults with their Colt Revolving Rifles and before the day ended, expended 43,550 rounds of ammunition. As the afternoon wore on, the Confederates began working their way westward, trying to find the Federal flank, forcing Thomas to stretch his force thinner and thinner to meet the new threats.
Late in the afternoon, as things began appearing bleak, Thomas received reinforcements from General Gordon Granger's Reserve Corps. Granger’s men had been stationed in Rossville, Georgia, several miles to the north. As the sounds of the fighting shifted earlier in the day, Granger took it upon himself to march part of his men southward, arriving in the nick of time to save Thomas’ line. The Reserve Corps charged up the backside of Snodgrass Hill and into the Confederates who were about to turn Thomas’ flank. Fighting raged to near sunset when Thomas received orders from Rosecrans to withdraw from the field. Thomas began by ordering his troops who had defended Kelly field throughout the day to withdraw, and then as darkness settled over the field and the firing slackened; he pulled back from his positions on Snodgrass Hill.
As Thomas’ men left the field, the Confederates made one final assault, gained the tops of the hills, but found only three regiments; the 21st Ohio, the 89th Ohio, and the 22nd Michigan, who had not received their orders to pull back. These three units became the final casualties of the battle as they were captured and soon found themselves being shipped to Confederate prison camps in Virginia. With the withdrawal of Thomas from the field, the Battle of Chickamauga came to an end.
Thomas' stand saved the Federal army from complete disaster and earned himself the nickname, "The Rock of Chickamauga", but the disaster that befell the army could not be overlooked. In the following weeks, General Rosecrans was relieved of command and Generals McCook and Crittenden faced court-martials. In the Confederate army, General Bragg relieved Generals Polk and Hill of their commands due to their poor performances during battle. The Federal army retreated back to Chattanooga, placing themselves behind heavy fortifications, waiting for the Confederates' next move. Bragg chose to besiege the city and for the next 2 months attempted to starve the Federals out. In late November, the Federal troops, then having been heavily reinforced and now under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, delivered a devastating blow to the Confederates. The Battles of Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge were won, thus deciding the fate of Chattanooga once and for all in favor of the Federal forces. These victories opened the gateway to the Deep South.
General Bragg led the broken Confederate army back to Dalton, Georgia, where he resigned command of the army. Grant was once again promoted and in tum promoted his old friend and protégé, William T. Sherman to command the Federal armies in the West. The next spring, General Sherman moved his army out of Chattanooga, marching south toward Atlanta.