|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
However, it will be 10:00 AM, 3 hours late, before Breckinridge opens the battle by striking toward Federal Gen. George Thomas's breastworks to the north of Cleburne's men. Two of his brigades drove all the way to the LaFayette road. But the left of Breckinridge's Division ran up against fierce fire from behind stronger fortifications, and the shot-up division was turned back. Confederate Brig. Gen. Ben Hardin Helm, President Lincoln's brother-in-law, was killed in the attack. By noon, Breckinridge's Division was ruined.
|Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010|
I received orders from Lieut. Gen. Hill to advance and dress on the line of Gen. Breckin-ridge, who had been placed on my right. Accordingly, directing each Brigade to dress upon the right, and preserve its distance, I moved forward. Breckinridge was already in motion. The effort to overtake, and dress upon him, caused hurry and some confusion in my line, which was necessarily a long one.Cleburne moved his division forward to began their own attack against Thomas's main line of defensive works. Almost immediately his men came under fire, and the advance became disorderly and needed to be rectified. However, before Cleburne could straighten out his lines, the men came under shattering firepower coming from the enemy's line. According to Cleburne:
Polk's brigade and the right of Wood's encountered the heaviest Artillery-fire I have ever experienced. I was now within short canister range of a line of log breast-works, and a hurricane of shot and shell swept the woods, from the unseen enemy in my front.
This deadly fire was direct, and came from that part of the enemy's breast-works, opposite to my right and right centre; the rest of my line—stretching off to the left—received an oblique fire from the line of breastworks, which, at a point opposite my centre formed a retiring angle running off toward the Chattanooga-LaFayette road behind.
Passing toward the left at this time, I found that the line of advance of my Division, which was the left of the Right Wing of the Army, converged with the line of advance of the Left Wing of the Army; the flanks of the two wings had already come into collision—part of Wood's Brigade had passed over Bate's Brigade of Stewart's Division, which was the right of the Left Wing, and Deshler's Brigade, which formed my left, had been thrown out entirely, and was in rear of the Left Wing of the Army. I ordered Wood to move forward the remainder of his Brigade; opening at the same time in the direction of the enemy's fire with Semple's Battery.
That part of Wood's Brigade to the left of Lowrey's Regiment, and to the left of the Southern angle of the breast-works, in its advance at this time, entered an old field bordering the road (Chattanooga-LaFayette), and attempted to cross it in the face of a heavy fire from works in its front; it had almost reached the road, its left being at Poe's house (known as the Burning House), when it was driven back by a heavy oblique fire of small-arms and Artillery which was opened upon both its flanks. The fire from the right wing coming from the South face of the breast-works, which was hid from view by the thick growth of scrub-oak bordering the field. Five hundred men were killed and wounded by this fire in a few minutes.
There was so little protection that the Confederates lay down and did their best to fire back at the log defenses, while at the same time erecting what little defense they could of limbs, rocks, and brush that could be hastily collected. Lowrey's report continues:
A battery could be seen from my right wing, and the smoke from the enemy's guns was all else that could be seen at which to direct our fire, as the enemy's works were constructed over the crest of the next hill. Being disengaged a considerable distance from the left of Polk's brigade, so that a line of infantry much longer than my own poured a direct and cross-fire into my ranks, and a battery only 230 yards in my front all the time pouring grape-shot upon us, made the fire by far the most severe I have ever witnessed.
In a very short time, I lost over one-fourth of my command in killed and wounded. Nineteen of my men now sleep in one grave near where the colors stood, all of whom were killed near that spot. I would have caused my men to fall back over the crest of the hill and cease firing, but having had orders to go forward and engage the enemy and none to fall back, I supposed it was my duty to keep up the fire, and that a movement was going on the enemy's right flank that would soon remove them from their stronghold.
|Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010|
At 1 PM, Gens. Longstreet's and John Bell Hood's men surged through the opening at the Brotherton field, striking the exposed Federal right flank. Within 10 minutes the Rebels were across the LaFayette road, driving a deep wedge into the Federal rear. The Union center and right were routed and fled. Most of the demoralized Federals fled to Chattanooga, as did Generals Rosecrans, Crittenden, and McCook. Also fleeing was the Assistant Secretary of War, Charles A. Dana, who was present at the battle as an observer for Secretary Stanton. Part of a single division, Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's, stopped upon reaching a gap in Missionary Ridge, but it did not return to the battlefield. By sunset, which came around 6 PM, essentially the whole Federal army was full retreat through McFarland's Gap, not stopping until they got to Rossville on the outskirts of Chattannooga.
|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
As the Federals were fleeing, Polk's Brigade, with Lowrey's Regiment following in support, took up the pursuit some distance up the LaFayette road. Capturing the enemy's artillery and hundreds of prisoners, Cleburne halted his division in the enemy's camp to await further orders. His victorious men had finally gained the LaFayette road for which they had fought for 2 days. There they will camp for the night, while less than a half-mile to the west, Gen. Thomas is gathering a Federal force to make a stand on Horseshoe Ridge.
Initially, Bragg was unable to believe that the Confederates had won without following his battle plan. He, therefore, delayed in following up on his victory, which could have meant the complete destruction of Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland. The opportunity for overwhelming victory was allowed to pass.
1 In 1899, an old veteran from among this rescue party wrote to the Confederate Veteran magazine (Vol 7): "At about the time Maj. F.C. Karr fell Cleburne’s column fell back two hundred yards to get ammunition. Gen. Mark Lowrey came down the line and cried out: ‘Boys, you have left your major on the field, and he is still exposed to danger!’ Five men immediately volunteered to bring the wounded major from the field. They were D.W. Rogers, Jessee Cheeves, Serg. Hanks, Serg. Crabb, and W.P. Hammons. The Federals were still pouring a deadly fire into the field, and shot and shell were plowing the ground in every direction around the wounded officer. The five men walked across the field without faltering for an instant, and had secured the Major and were bringing him back to their line stretched on a blanket, when a bomb exploded among them. The brave fellows fell in a heap, with shattered limbs and bodies. They were rescued by other comrades, but all were maimed for life."