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Chickamauga, Useless, Disastrous Battle   By:

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Chickamauga. Useless, Disastrous Battle.

Talk by Smith D. Atkins. Opera House, Mendota, Illinois, February 22, 1907, at invitation of Woman's Relief Corps, G.A.R.

When the Civil War came in this country forty seven years ago, I was a young lawyer in Freeport, with not a particle of military schooling, and not the slightest inclination for military life. But when our good President, Abraham Lincoln, made his first call for three months' volunteers in April, 1861, I enlisted as a private soldier, and when mustered out at the end of three months, I again enlisted as a private soldier, resolved that I would serve in the army until the rebellion was crushed. Promotions came to me very rapidly. I always had a larger command than I believed myself capable of handling.

On August 16th, 1863, when the movement of the Army of the Cumberland began from Winchester and Dechard in middle Tennessee against the Army of the Confederacy under Bragg at Chattanooga, I was not, as a matter of course, informed of the plans of the campaign, for I held only the rank of a colonel of a single regiment, and a boy at that, attached to Wilder's Brigade of Mounted Infantry, armed with Spencer repeating rifles, the best arm for service in the field ever invented, better than any other arm in the world then or now, so simple in its mechanism that it never got out of order, and was always ready for instant service.

All the world knows now that the object of the campaign was the capture of Chattanooga. I am not an educated soldier; I am not capable of making any technical criticism of military campaigns; my opinions possess no military value; I know nothing of grand tactics, and very little of any kind of tactics; since the war I have made no critical study of that campaign. I am averse to such studies; when the war ended I tried to put behind me everything connected with the war, and devote my whole attention to the duties and pursuits of peace; I would not talk about, or read about the Civil War. I placed in my library many volumes of campaigns in which I was engaged, but I would not read them. By accident one day I took up a little volume, "Hood's Advance and Retreat" over ground with which I was familiar, and read it with intense interest, and I afterward read with interest many volumes concerning the war.

When the advance of the Army of the Cumberland began it was the desire of General Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, to confuse and mislead Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army. In that he was signally successful. Sending a portion of his army, cavalry, infantry and artillery, across the Cumberland mountains into the valley of the Tennessee north of Chattanooga to threaten that city from the north, he led his main army across the Tennessee at Bridgeport, Tennessee, and Caperton's Ferry, Alabama, and crossing the mountains into Lookout Valley, swung his army to the south and west of Chattanooga, rendering the occupation of that city untenable by Bragg with his line of supplies threatened in his rear. From my slight acquaintance with famous military campaigns I believe that the display of grand tactics by Rosecrans fairly rivals that of anything in history, and was as brilliant and successful as the famous campaign of John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, before the battle of Blenheim in 1704.

Instead of commenting on the campaign of the Army of the Cumberland against Chattanooga, which I freely grant that from a technical military point of view I am incapable of, I prefer to dwell upon the movements of my own regiment in that campaign.

In the afternoon of August 16th, 1863, my regiment, attached to Wilder's Brigade, moved out from Dechard, and climbed the Cumberland Mountains to University Place, and crossing into the Sequatchie Valley, climbed and crossed Walden's Ridge, reaching Poe's Tavern in the Tennessee Valley, twelve miles north of Chattanooga, on the 21st of August; on the 22nd, Wilder and his brigade went to a point north of Chattanooga to directly threaten that city, while my regiment went to Harrison's Landing, threatening to cross at that point fifteen miles north of Chattanooga... Continue reading book >>

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