The Battle of Chickamauga Ends in Retreat
— Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails —
By nightfall on Sunday, September 20, 1863, more
than two-thirds of the surviving Federal "Army of the
Cumberland" had retreated from the Chickamauga
battlefield through this narrow gap in Missionary
Ridge. One of the Federal army's necessities during its
fight at Chickamauga was to protect communications
with its base at Chattanooga. Two routes they needed to
hold leading through McFarland's Gap were the Dry
Valley and McFarland Gap's roads. Losing access to the
gap could result in disaster for the Federal army.
Shortly after 12:00 noon on the 20th, commanding
Union Major General William S. Rosecrans decided
the Battle of Chickamauga was lost following the
routing of the Federal right
and center. Upon reaching
McFarland's Gap he spoke
with survivors of Major
General James S. Negley's
division, who said Negley
was farther north "rallying
stragglers." This news
heightened Rosecrans fears
that his army had been
badly defeated. Around
1:00 pm weary and often
wounded Federal soldiers
began streaming through
McFarland's Gap. Overturned wagons, abandoned
caissons and the like littered the road. Just north of the
gap many demoralized infantrymen encountered the
15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known
as the "Anderson Cavalry." They had orders from
Rosecrans to stop
stragglers. The Pennsylvanians halted
a large number of men before being ordered to the rear.
Many men rested on the farm of Xzanders G. and
Lucy Ann B. McFarland, about a mile north. Unlike
the ground between the Chickamauga battlefield and
McFarland's Gap, which was "broken, rugged and
densely-wooded," according to General Negley, the
McFarland farm offered "the first open ground where
the troops could be
collected and reorganized."
Jefferson C. Davis and
Major General Philip H.
Sheridan also reorganized
some Federal troops.
Davis rallied over 1,000
men from his division
while Sheridan brought
some 1,500 survivors
from the battlefield through the gap.
By 3:00 pm the Federal
panic waned, as officers
continued reorganizing some
semblance of an army. General
Davis ordered an artillery
battery positioned to protect
the gap, and fear about a
possible attack by Confederate
cavalry subsided. Around 4:00
pm, Generals Negley, Davis,
Sheridan and Lieutenant Colonel Arthur C. Ducat
of General Rosecrans' staff, met at the McFarland's home
to discuss a course of action. A "heated discussion"
ensued, reported Union
Captain Alfred L.
Hough, a member of
Negley's staff, but they
"could come to no
agreement for common
action." Some decided
to return to the
via McFarland's Gap
to reinforce troops still
fighting on "Horseshoe
Ridge" under Union Major General George H.
Thomas. None arrived in time.
General Thomas began withdrawing his
troops from the Chickamauga battlefield around
5:30 pm. Almost all trudged along the
McFarland's Gap road before funneling through
McFarland's Gap. Last to leave the battlefield,
around 10:00 pm, was Colonel Daniel McCook,
Jr's brigade, also passing through the gap. By the
next morning both McFarland's Gap and the
McFarland farm were nearly deserted. The bulk
of the Federal army had reached Rossville safely,
and eventually Chattanooga.