“Running roughly east to west, Horseshoe Ridge rises and falls in a series of steep peaks and troughs,” says historian Lee White. “Forest-packed ravines and valleys cut into the ridge, and several spurs jut out into the woods and fields.”
The ridge made a strong defensive position, and it was here that Maj. Gen. George Thomas made the last-ditch stand that prevented the Federal retreat from turning into a complete rout. Thomas’s steadfast resistance would earn him one of the Civil War’s most enduring nicknames: The Rock of Chickamauga.
Confederates repeatedly assaulted the position, but the disjointed nature of the attacks combined with unfriendly uphill terrain to prevent any real success. “As soon as our heads were visible above the crest of the hill, were met with a terrible volley of grape and canister and Minnie bullets not more than 80 yards distance,” said one Alabamian. “The men could go no further, death reigned on every side, the grape and canister swept the earth.”
“Here commenced a scene that beggars description, and God forbid that I should ever have to witness such another,” said another. “The carnage was awful. Men were shot down all around me. I was indeed in the very midst of death.”
Thomas held on until dusk, buying the time the army needed to make a safe withdrawal to Chattanooga. When finally they received orders to pull out, the three Federal units making up the rearmost guard were overrun—but the rest of the Army of the Cumberland survived.
The monument of the 2nd Minnesota (above) portrays the drama of the fight.
Text adapted from material in Lee White’s Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale: The Battle of Chickamauga, part of the Emerging Civil War Series.