Humphreys’ Mississippi Brigade, including the 13th regiment, joined General Kershaw’s South Carolinians on the evening of Sept. 19 in a fast march west from the Ringgold railhead.
They arrived at Alexander’s Bridge on West Chickamauga Creek, on the southeastern corner of the battlefield, which was essentially a hilly forest broken only by small fields, about one in the morning on Sunday, Sept. 20, where they awaited further orders.
General Braxton Bragg had his headquarters near Alexander’s Bridge. His Army of Tennessee had been fighting off and on for weeks and had spent Saturday in a stupendous but undecided slugfest with General William Starke Rosecran’s Union Army of the Cumberland. The two armies, totaling about 65,000 troops, had fought, as independent historian Shelby Foote wrote “deep in the woods, with visibility strictly limited to [each man’s] immediate vicinity.”
Foote wrote that Sunday’s sun came up looking blood red inside a hazy sky and the powder smoke of Saturday’s battle which still hung about the field. More than one man found the sun’s color ominous, portending a worse day of blood-letting. But confused attack orders from General Bragg made the morning drag on with little action.
About 11 a.m., according to Kershaw, his light division of two brigades was sent from Alexander’s Bridge to form up in reserve behind General John Bell Hood’s Division in the center of the Confederate battle line, opposite a quarter-mile stretch of Union breastworks.
“General Hood,” Kershaw wrote later, “directed me to form line in his rear, with my center resting on the spot where I found him, which I suppose, was his center. Forming line
(Humphreys on my left) as rapidly as possible under fire of the enemy and in a thick wood, I moved, as directed, to the front.”
“Heavy firing was heard in our front,” Humphreys later wrote in his report, “when we advanced in line parallel to the Lafayette road.
“Crossing the road we found the enemy on a hill at the edge of an old field. General Kershaw at once engaged him and [eventually] drove him from his position.
The terrain was steep. It was Snodgrass Hill on Horseshoe Ridge, ultimately the key to the battlefield, and the federal troops there opposing the Rebel advance were mostly from the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a regiment whose five-shot Colt Revolving Rifles put out a tremendous volume of fire.
“At this time,” Humphreys continued, “General Bushrod R. Johnson rode up to me and requested me to move my brigade to General Kershaw’s right, as the enemy were massing that direction and threatening a flank movement.”
Kershaw continued: “…the firing on my right became very heavy, and a portion of General Hood’s division fell back along my line. I changed front almost perpendicularly to the right… This movement had just been accomplished when an officer of Brigidier-General Law’s staff informed me of the unfortunate loss of Major-General Hood.”
Hood was not lost but he was seriously wounded and so he was out of the fight. Hood had made a perfect target on horseback. Kershaw, who was commanding on foot, continued:
“The enemy occupied a skirt of wood on the farther side of the
field around Dyer’s house, his right extending into the wood beyond the field, his left crossing the Cove road. His colors were ostentatiously displayed along the lines…
“The last of Hood’s division engaged in my front had just retired when I ordered the advance…The distance across the field was about 800 yards, with a fence intervening about one-fourth of the distance. As soon as we crossed the fence, I ordered bayonets fixed, and moved at a double-quick…
“When within 100 yards of the enemy they broke, and I opened fire upon them along the whole line, but pursued them rapidly over the first line of hills to the foot of the second, when I halted under a heavy fire of artillery on the heights, sheltering the men as much as possible, and there awaited the coming of Humphreys, on my right.”
Humphreys Mississippians had problems of their own, as their commander recorded:
“I immediately moved to General Kershaw’s right and met the enemy in force, drove in his skirmishers, and found him intrenched on a hill with artillery. After engaging him and reconnoitering his position, I found it impossible to drive him from it.”
Humphreys said Longstreet ordered the Mississippi Brigade to hold its position while he sent another division to attack on the right and left. “The attack on my right was successful,” Humphreys reported, “driving the enemy from his position in great confusion.”
“My losses were heavy,” Kershaw concluded. He reported them as 65 killed and 438 wounded. He was apparently referring to his own brigade alone, because the Mississippians’ losses were much smaller.
General Humphreys’ casualty list, which accompanied his after-action report, is noted in the Official Records as “not found,” a common problem with Confederate records which were forgotten or destroyed in the lost war, particularly in its last years.
The Mississippi Brigade’s casualties, as reported by General Longstreet, were 20 killed and 132 wounded. Subsequent accounting has verified 21 killed and 111 wounded.
The 17th regiment apparently bore the brunt of the brigade’s casualties. They have been reported as 12 killed and 75 wounded. Among the dead was our 17th regiment diarist Lieutenant Robert A. Moore, who was commanding the Confederate Guards of Company G.
The 18th regiment reportedly lost 1 man killed and 9 wounded, and the brigade’s 21st regiment had 7 killed and 23 wounded.
The 13th regiment’s casualties were the smallest in the brigade, indicating that they had little share in the battle. Spartan Band diarist William H. Hill said the casualties were “…but three killed and very few wounded,” though other sources put the figures at 1 killed and 7 wounded.
The dead man apparently was Private William Gibbons, of the Newton Rifles, whose records according to independent historian Jess N. McLean showed he was “killed in action by accident,” though the accident was not explained.
McLean found only five men wounded: Private John Thomas Hogan, Private Eli L. Collins and Private John Robertson, all of the Wayne Rifles; Private Charles R. Waddle of the Kemper Legion; and 1st Lieutenant Edwin Preston Harmon, the regiment’s adjutant.
Chickamauga’s overall result, of course, was a tremendous Confederate victory, though Bragg’s army suffered terribly: Thousands of irreplaceable dead and disabled. General Longstreet alone calculated his 3-division First Corps casualties at 44 percent.
General Humphreys concluded his report with praise for “the bearing and dauntless courage of [Kershaw] and his brave Palmetto boys who have so long and so often fought side by side with the Mississippi troops. The gallant and heroic daring with which they met the shock of battle and irresistibly drove back the Federal hosts merits the highest encomium and lasting gratitude of the army and the country.”
Longstreet’s report also singled out Kershaw for distinction. Humphreys apparently was hardly a Barksdale (the hard-drinking, profane man he had replaced as brigade commander) for Longstreet gave Humphreys only an “honorable mention.”