Civil War Wednesday: Battle of Chickamauga

  • Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

    GDEcD Photography

During the fighting along Chickamauga Creek in September 1863, the soldiers of the 5th Georgia Infantry Regiment epitomized the stream’s English translation “The River of Death.” These Georgians, part of Brigadier General John K. Jackson’s brigade, in Major General Frank Cheatham’s division, saw action twice on September 19 and finished the battle the following day with a brave charge under heavy fire. Fighting under the command of Colonel Charles P. Daniel, the 5th opened their involvement on September 19 with an advance toward the Federal brigade of Colonel John Croxton positioned above Winfrey Field.

Brigadier General John K. Jackson.
Brigadier General John K. Jackson.

Jackson’s brigade moved astride the Alexander’s Bridge Road aligned left to right as follows: 5th GA, 2/1 CSA, 5th MS, 8th MS, and 2nd GA Sharpshooters. Overcoming initial confusion about the exact location of the Federal position, the Confederates rallied and fought until virtually extinguishing all of their ammunition. A runner sent to carry additional rounds to the front received a mortal wound. When Southern reinforcements arrived, Croxton’s new line rested roughly three-quarters of a mile rearward from his original position, and the Georgians had captured three Federal artillery pieces.

The day had not yet ended for the men of the 5th as they received orders to advance a second time. With darkness settling over the fields of Chickamauga, the blood of additional members of the regiment would stain the north Georgia soil. The rapid firing of minié balls, combined with artillery shell and canister, ignited a fire in the thick brush. Private W.K. Pilsbury of the 5th later recalled, “…the cries of the wounded were dreadful to hear…as the battle waged to and fro that fateful autumn night…an impression upon the minds and hearts of all those who were engaged…will last as long as life.”[1]

Sadly, life would not prove long for many of the soldiers in the 5th Georgia, as day two of the battle produced even heavier casualties. Daniel made note in his post-battle report of the “…heavy enfilading fire of shot, shell, and grape,” which greeted his regiment as they advanced in support of Major General Pat Cleburne’s attack.[2] The Georgians continued to press, the men fighting and dying until finally repulsing the remaining Federals from the field.

Jackson recapped his casualties in the after-action report and lamented that his “…greatest loss was in the Fifth Georgia Regiment.”[3] Among the 317 soldiers of the 5th Georgia present for duty at Chickamauga, 194 lay dead, wounded or numbered among the missing at the conclusion of the battle. In amassing a casualty percentage of 61.1, the 5th Georgia ranks 15th among all Confederate regimental losses during the entire war.[4] As one battle observer commented, “Gen. Frank Cheatham’s command was the greatest evidence of the terrific effect of artillery fire.”[5] Chickamauga proved a field of death for the men of the 5th Georgia Infantry.

[1] W.K. Pilsbury, “The Fifth Georgia at Chickamauga,” Confederate Veteran, January, 1895, 330, (accessed August 14, 2103).

[2] United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 30, pt. 2 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 89.

[3] Ibid., 85.

[4] William F. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865 (1889; repr., Gulf Breeze, FL: eBooksonDisk, 2002), 556.

[5] Christopher Losson, Tennessee’s Forgotten Warriors: Frank Cheatham and His Confederate Division (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), 107.


Images from: The Photographic History of the Civil War.

Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.