After the Battle of Chickamauga, the Union Army of the Cumberland retreated north through the mountain gaps towards Chattanooga, with Bragg’s Army of Tennessee temporarily stalled at Chickamauga.
Nevertheless, on Sept. 22, Mississippi Brigade commander General Humphreys dispatched thirty men from the 18th regiment to skirmish with a lingering party of the enemy near the gap at Rossville on the Georgia-Tennessee line.
Humphreys said they succeeded in capturing “9 officers and 120 men, making a total of prisoners captured by the brigade, 37 officers and 535 men.”
Generals Longstreet and Bragg, meanwhile, were arguing over what Longstreet saw as a diminishing chance to destroy the defeated Yankee forces while Bragg worried that his army had been too severely mauled for more action immediately.
According to figures compiled by the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Rosecrans had lost 16,170 killed, wounded, and missing out of about 62,000 engaged, while Bragg had suffered a total of 18,454 casualties out of approximately 67,000 engaged. And the Union forces were being reinforced by the Army of the Potomac and their Army of the Tennessee.
Humphreys Brigade apparently regrouped with the rest of McLaws’ Division in the vicinity of the town of Chickamauga, south of the battlefield. McLaws had come up to the battlefield from Atlanta in the late afternoon of Sept. 20, as the battle was winding down. He had brought much of the rest of the division with him.
They were soon helping tend to the thousands of Rebel wounded, burying the dead and corralling thousands of Yankee prisoners while Longstreet, Bragg and the other generals argued about what to do next.
Spartan Band diarist William H. Hill, clerking for the regimental quartermaster, recorded more rumor than fact, though he had the overall picture and shared Longstreet’s opinion.
“Tuesday. Clear and pleasant,” he wrote on Sept 22, 1863. “A large portion of the Yankee Army has crossed the Tennessee River but they still hold Chattanooga.
“The enemy are badly defeated and if our Army had the requisite supplies and transportation to follow the Yankee Army, their defeat could easily be turned into a route [sic] and their Army destroyed.
“Some 500 more Yankee prisoners were brought in today. Our Army is in fine health and spirits and eager to pursue on after the retreating foe.”
Dr. Samuel H. Stout, Bragg’s general hospital director, was Hill’s uncle. Thus Hill knew what was afoot in the caring of the Rebel wounded.
On Sept. 23, he wrote “The wounded of our Army are coming here in large numbers. I met uncle S.H. Stout here this morning. He came here for the purpose of establishing a receiving Depot for the wounded. He brought up Surgeons, nurses, supplies, etc. He left this evening for Marietta where he has his Headquarters.”
Any progress in pursuing the enemy was likely to be slow. Longstreet’s chief of artillery, Colonel Porter Alexander summed up well in a letter home the general displeasure at being attached to Bragg’s Army of Tennessee.
“This army is far inferior to the Army of Va. in organization & equipment & spirit, & I regret very much that I ever left the latter…” He saw “no prospect of Braggs making up his mind what to do at all…Every body—Lieut Genls even seem to feel disgusted at his incapacity….”
Indeed, according to Sam Watkins, author of the memoir “Co. Aytch, A Side Show of The Big Show,” Bragg was despised by many of his troops:
“They had no faith in his ability as a general. He was looked upon as a merciless tyrant. The soldiers were very scantily fed. Bragg never was a good feeder or commissary-general. Rations with us were always scarce…Bragg was the great autocrat…He loved to crush the spirit of his men. The more of a hang-dog look they had about them the better was General Bragg pleased. Not a single soldier in the whole army ever loved or respected him.”
After a six-day delay, on Sept. 27, Humphreys Brigade and the 13th regiment finally followed the Yankee retreat north.
“All of our brigade was moved today,” Hill recorded, “to Chickamauga Station on the Western and Atlantic R.R. in Hamilton Co., Tennessee eight miles southwest of Chattanooga…. Both of the contending armies are fortifying their positions as fast as possible.”
The next day, a Monday, General Longstreet ordered McLaws’ Division to throw out skirmishers to help protect batteries installed against the enemy by Hood’s Division.