“Ten thousand craters in eruption would scarcely equal that of Chickamauga”
Updated: Feb 10
Morgan’s Detachment at the Battle of Chickamauga Part Two
Battle of Chickamuaga, September 18, 1863
To read part one of this story, click HERE.
On the morning of the 18th, Martin's men left with Forrest outside of Dalton, Georgia and rode toward the front to Confederate General Bushrod Johnson's division. The Confederate plan called for the men to cross the Chickamauga Creek at Reed's Bridge. However, Johnson's skirmishers ran into mounting resistance from Minty's Union cavalry brigade posted in front along the Pea Vine Ridge. Soon Forrest and his men rode up, dismounted, and fought along side the infantry skirmish line. Fighting in thick underbrush and trees, Martin's men went toe to toe with Minty's Federals, driving them back (I). Captian James E. Cantrill, formally of the 5th Kentucky Cavalry, now in the 1st Battalion, wrote, "We were immediately deployed as skirmishers… As the men galloped by Forrest, he called to them in language, which inspired them with still higher enthusiasm. He urged them to do their whole duty in the battle. He spoke of their chief, who had been insulted with a felon's treatment and was then lying in the cell of a penitentiary. He gave them "Morgan" for a battle-cry, and bade them maintain their old reputation.``(II).
Slowly Minty's men fell back toward the bridge, using the thick terrain and fields to their advantage, but Martin's men, along with the rest of the advancing Confederates, continued to push the Federals back. Private John Weatherred of the 1st Battalion recalled, "We were in the advance skirmish line and would find out where the enemy were enmassed and then turn it over to the Infantry to do the heaviest fighting: the boys a foot would say to us, you dam cavalry, only go in front and make them road and then fall back for us to do the fighting: some truth in their statement." (III).
Soon, Minty's men moved toward the bridge with their backs facing the creek. Hot on their hills were the Confederates under Forrest and Johnson.
Sometime after crossing Pea Vine Ridge, Forrest spotted Federals to the south of Johnson’s forming lines and took his force, including the 17th Tennessee Infantry. It is unclear as to whether or not Martin’s men accompanied Forrest in his small expedition. Most of the accounts from the detachment tend to lean that they stayed with Johnson. For example, Captain Josiah B. Gathright, formally from Company H 8th Kentucky Cavalry, now in the second battalion, wrote, “When I reached the crest of the hill with my company the enemy’s cavalry had reformed and were apparently about to charge. They were just across the narrow open field, and just behind them was a line of trees and undergrowth that plainly outlined the river. As soon as we reached the crest, however, we opened fire again at pretty close range, and they immediately moved in column by the left and retreated across the river.” Further, Captain James E. Cantrill, of the first battalion recalled, “The enemy had formed in the edge of a woods, in front of which was an open field. This field was fought over again and again, each side charging alternately and forced back. At last a charge upon our part, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Martin, was successful. The enemy fell back still farther.” (IV). Most of the fighting these two sources describe tend to detail the action around Reed’s bridge, with the Federal cavalry being Minty’s brigade which made several charges against Johnson’s advancing men (V).
Nevertheless, Johnson and his men fought viciously and secured the bridge after driving Minty’s men from the area. By the time Forrest arrived back in the ensuing fight, Johnson’s troops were already across the creek. To help aid in the continued push, Forrest and his riders crossed the fords below Reed's Bridge flanking Minty and his men. Captain Josiah B. Gathright, of the second Battalion, wrote, "Colonel Bob Martin in command and General Forrest both rode behind our lines during the fight, cheering and encouraging the men in a gallant style." After a brief fight, Minty withdrew south toward the main Federal lines (VI).
Once across, larger events began to unfolded for the detachment. In an effort to link up with the Confederates further to the south, Johnson, along with Martin’s command began to push south along the Jay’s Mill Road (VII). After a while the detachment turned on to the Alexander and Viniard road. As the sun began to set, The Confederate troopers collided with elements of John T. Wilder’s cavalry brigade who spent the previous hours fighting along Alexander’s Bridge. In the ensuing fight, both sides skirmished with eachother till darkness closed the day’s fighting. Captain James E. Cantrill, of the first battalion, wrote, "The enemy fell back still farther. We now saw clearly from many indications and were told by prisoners that the Federal line of battle, the main force, was not far off. We, therefore, moved more cautiously. Just about sundown, we found the enemy's cavalry drawn up directly in front of the infantry, but they made little resistance. After one or two volleys, they fell behind the protecting "web feet." Night falling stopped all further operations for that day." With night falling on the field, Martin withdrew towards Forrest's camps near Alexander's bridge, where they posted pickets and settled in for the next day (VIII).
Battle for the Red House Bridge Ford, September 19th-20th
As the sun slowly rose on the 19th, Martin was ordered to join Scott's brigade, moving toward the Red House Bridge several miles north from the main Confederate army (I). In the area were units from Union General Gordon Granger's reserve corps, specifically from Walter C. Whitaker's brigade. Hours before Scott's arrival, Whitaker's men arrived on the west side of the Chickamauga creek, taking up positions near McAfee's Church. After settling in, Whitaker moved a portion of the 84th Indiana Infantry towards the Red House Bridge; after finding the lead elements of Scott's cavalry, both sides engaged in sporadic fighting. Martin and his command arrived around the time Scott’s men began to engage with the Hoosiers. After dismounting, the Kentuckians engaged in the fighting (II).
By the afternoon, Scott's main body was in the area and increased pressure on the portion of the 84th in their front. Finally, at around midday, Scott pushed the Federals back. After the Federal infantry fell back from the bridge, and laying a brief ambush in the process, Scott committed both the 2nd and 5th Tennessee cavalries into the developing action (III). To help stabilize the growing fight, Whitaker sent forward the other companies of the 84th Indiana. The 84th soon rallied around the Kingston farm just beyond Sugar Creek, also known as Little Chickamauga, or Spring Creek, and sat along the Rossville and Ringold Road. After running into more resistance on the farm, Scott committed more of his men into the fray, sending the 1st Lousiana Cavalry and Martin's detachment. Once in position, Scott also moved up Lieutenant Winslow Robinson's Louisiana artillery, which had engaged the Federal skirmishers along the Chickamauga Creek. Between 1-2 pm, Scott unleashed his attack on the Union positions. With more pressure coming to his front, Whitaker now committed the 40th Ohio Infantry and a section of Charles C. Aleshire's Ohio battery. The men soon crossed the creek and fell into line with the 84th. However, Scott's attack began to crack the Federal line, forcing the Union men to fall back even further to the creek (IV).
Knowing that more Confederate forces lay to his front, Whitaker ordered another regiment into the fray, this time sending the 115th Illinois Infantry. Once near the scene, the 115th stopped roughly 200 yards from the creek and fell in on the left side of the road. After lying down, the men waited for the oncoming Confederates. In a matter of minutes, the 84th Indiana, 40th Ohio, and Aleshire's battery came racing across the creek and toward the new Federal line, and following close behind where Scott's Confederates. Almost immediately, the 115th rose and unleashed a murderous volley onto the Southerners. Realizing that his men were outnumbered, Colonel Jesse H. Moore, of the 115th, conducted a fighting withdraw back towards the main line at McAfee Church. During the withdrawal, Moore halted his men periodically, long enough to unleash a volley onto the Confederates and fall back (V).
For Morgan's survivors, the fighting was much like the previous day, where the men fought in thick underbrush and trees. Seeing the disadvantage his men were up against, Whitaker pleaded to his division commander, General James B. Steedman, to send more support to push back the Confederate thrust. After sending two more regiments from his brigade, the 22nd Michigan and 89th Ohio, Whitaker finally received more reinforcements from John G. Mitchell's brigade. After stabilizing the line, the Federals did not have to wait long for Scott's men (VI).
As the time neared 5:00 pm, Scott had no idea that an entire division was present in his front until his men ran into the Federals and received several horrific volleys, sending them back for good. Pvt. John Weatherred, of the first battalion recalled, "The second day of the fight, we came into a federal battery, six cannons, well supported by infantry. A few were killed and wounded. My company and mess wounded Dick Brandsford. A piece of shell struck him on the head, but it did not disable him very long. This was a hot place for perhaps 25 minutes until we could get out of range by going into a canyon to our left. We were very near the battery, 3 or 4 hundred yards." (VII). After failing to dislodge the Federals, Scott's men withdrew across Chickamauga Creek, where they settled in for the night. Losses for both sides were light, with the Federal suffering roughly five killed and thirty-six wounded. The Confederates' casualties were not listed, but it can be reasonably inferred they suffered the same (VIII).
During the evening, Captain Josiah B. Gathright, of the second battalion, finally arrived in camp. Gathright the day prior was sent to link up with the Confederates near Alexander Bridge, during his ride, he and six other comrades got lost and subsequently spent the rest of the night and day trying to find Martin's command. Though not involved in the days fighting Gathright described perfectly the action, "Only those who have heard the awful turmoil and incessant roar of a great battle can form any conception of the awe-inspiring effect of listing close at hand to such a struggle as that of the second day's battle of Chickamauga… It is awe-inspiring to be near the creator of Vesuvius, to hear the incessant hissings, rumblings, and explosions, but the noises of ten thousand craters in eruption would scarcely equal that of Chickamauga” (IX).
On the morning of the 20th, Morgan's survivors awoke to a tremendous fight to the south where the main battle was taking place. For the most part, everything was quiet on the men's front. However, during the midpoint of the day or in the afternoon, a portion of Minty's Union brigade from the 4th Michigan Cavalry, now operating in the area, moved down the road towards the Red House Bridge and began to skirmish with Scott's Cavalry (I). In a brief fight that lasted roughly an hour, both sides fought each other to a standstill. Captain James E. Cantrill, of the first battalion recalled, "The fighting of the next day was very similar to that of the previous ones — the enemy falling back slowly with his face toward us." Further to the south, Bragg's army won a massive victory with his infantry exploiting a hole in the Federal lines and forcing them to retreat towards Chattanooga (II).
September 21st- Beyond
By the morning of the 21st, Forrest moved his two divisions, including Scott's brigade, toward Missionary Ridge, where his men pushed back the Union Cavalry protecting the ridge lines. Morgan's Detachment was involved in this affair and successfully drove the Federals, under Minty, back towards the Federal main line. During the attack, Forrest was reported to have ridden near Martin's troopers and said, "Any man who says that Morgan's men are not good soldiers and fine fighters tells a damn lie." Further, Captain Josiah B. Gathright of the second battalion wrote, "The next day, our battalion under Colonel Martin went on a scouting expedition towards Chattanooga. We drove some of the enemy's cavalry and approached the city almost near enough to look down into it." (I).
By the morning of the 22nd, Martin's men were on the extreme right of the advancing Confederate army. The horsemen were tasked with fighting and clearing out what was left of the Federal army along Missionary Ridge. On this particular day, the Detachment saw heavy action near the Cleveland road across Chickamauga Creek. During the action, the Kentuckians and Scott's brigade dismounted and charged head-on against an entrenched infantry regiment, the 59th Ohio. Captain James E. Cantrill, of the first battalion recalled, "Forming his brigade Colonel Scott sent a portion of our command, on foot, to inspect the enemy's position. The reconnoitering party drove in the pickets, took the outside rifle pits, and forced the enemy to their breastworks and forts." After several hours of intense fighting, Morgan's men finally pushed the Federals from their fortifications toward their main lines at Chattanooga. The losses for the men were light compared to other commands at Chickamauga. According to Scott, he lost ten men either killed or wounded during the action, which does not include those lost on the 18th (II). By now, the closing shots of one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles had ended. Both Forrest and Scott were reported to have noted that Morgan's men fought excellently during the battle.
In the subsequent days, the Army of Tennessee underwent a massive reorganization. This reorganization found its way within the Detachment. The first battalion still under the command of John D. Kirkpatrick was sent to join Wheeler's command and fought in his October raid around the city of Chattanooga. The second battalion, still under the command of John B. Dortch, was sent to fight in Eastern Tennessee. With the split of Morgan's command, the symbolism of Morgan's old division, men who had ridden with him since the start of the war and fighting in dozens of battles, was gone. Though Morgan escaped from prison in November 1863 and created a new cavalry division, it lacked the same style and character as the old one (III).
Battle of Chickamuaga September 18th
I. Powell, pg. 101-104
II. Duke, pg. 377
III. Masters, par. 44
IV. O.R. pt. 2, Vol. 30, pg. 479; Johnson, pg. 447; Duke, pg. 377
V. Powell, pg. 107-109
VI. Powell, pg. 109-111; Johnson, pg. 377
VII. Powell, David A., “The Chickamauga Campaign: A mad irregular battle: From the crossing the Tennessee River Through the second day, August 22-September 19.1863” Savas Beatie LLC, 2014, 2016, pg. 249
VIII. O.R. pt. 2. Vol. 30, pg. 252; O.R. pt. 1, Vol. 30; Cantrill, pg. 377; Chickamauga| Sept. 19-20, 1863, American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/maps/chickamauga-sept-19-20-1863, Accessed January 3, 2023
I. Duke, pg. 377-378; Powell, pg. 122-123
II. O.R. pt. 1, Vol. 30, pg. 861; The Chickamauga Campaign, pg. 616-618; Royse, Issac H.C., “ History of the 115th Illinois Volunteer Infantry”, 1900, pg. 109 , E-Book, Internet Archives.org, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2007, https://archive.org/details/historyof115thre00roys/page/108/mode/2up; Cantrill, pg. 377-378
III. Powell, pg. 147, The Chickamauga Campaign, pg. 618-619
IV. O.R. pt. 1, Vol. 30, pg. 861-862; The Chickamauga Campaign, pg. 618-619; Duke, pg. 678; Partridge, Charles A. “History of the Nintey-Sixth Illinois Volunteer Infantry” United States, Chicago, Brown, Pettibone, printers, pg. 169, Digital, Internet Archives.org, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2007
V. Royse, pg. 109-110
VI. O.R. pt. 1, Vol. 30, pg. 862
VII. O.R. pt. 1, Vol. 30, pg. 862; Masters, par. 45
VIII. O.R. pt. 1, Vol. 30, pg. 862; Powell, pg. 250
IX. Johnson, pg. 447-454
I. O.R. pt. 1, Vol. 30, pg. 824; Chardoul, “ The Fourth Michigan Cavalry: A Civil War Regimental History “, 1964, pg. 66, E-Book, University of Michigan, https://d.lib.msu.edu/etd/28945/datastream/OBJ/view; Powell, pg. 157
II. Duke, pg. 378
I. Powell, pg. 176; Johnson, pg. 157-158; Johnson, pg. 456
II. Powell, pg. 188-192; Duke, pg. 378
III. Duke, pg. 378