A Squandered Opportunity
— Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails —
As Union Major General William S. Rosecrans' "Army of the Cumberland" entered Georgia in early September 1863, its three infantry corps were dangerously divided over a fifty mile radius. Most endangered was Major General George H. Thomas 14th Corps, especially Major General James S.
Negley's 4,000-man division. They moved through Steven's Gap on September 9th into McLemore's Cove believing no enemy was ahead. Learning of Negley's isolation and sensing an opportunity to defeat the Federal army in detail, Confederate "Army of Tennessee" General Braxton Bragg ordered Major General Patrick R. Cleburne's 5,000-man division to attack Negley's division "in front" through Dug Gap in Pigeon Mountain. Meanwhile, Major General Thomas C. Hindman's 6,000-man division, supported by two additional divisions, would enter McLemore's Cove from the north, moving against Negley's exposed left flank.
On Thursday, September 10th, General Negley's division moved east across McLemore's Cove until encountering skirmishers from General Cleburne's division near Dug Gap. Negley made his headquarters at Davis' Cross Roads in the home of a forty year old widow, Julia Davis, and her six children.
Had General Hindman attacked as ordered on the 10th, or early on the 11th, there might have been a great Confederate success. But Hindman repeatedly delayed, convinced he was outnumbered or that he himself would be flanked. In reality, with the two supporting divisions Hindman had three times Negley's number. By 8:00 am on the 11th, Union Brigadier
General Absalom Baird's 4,600-man division
arrived to reinforce Negley. Baird reported, "We
were [soon] informed that firing had commenced
in the front and we at once rode to the spot.
About half a mile ſeast of] the Widow Davis
House...our line of infantry and artillery was
formed." Nearer the firing line, Surgeon Roswell
G. Bogue of the 19th Illinois Volunteer Infantry
Regiment, stated, "[A] severe skirmish or small
battle ensued[, d]uring which nine men were
killed and twenty-two wounded." After the
Federal line withdrew, Bogue continued, "the
wounded were moved back first to a point called
Bailey's Cross Roads, then to the foot of the
mountain to Steven's [Gap]."
Realizing their position was becoming
increasingly difficult, Generals Baird's and
Negley's divisions began retreating west toward
Steven's Gap. When General Hindman finally
advanced at 4:00 pm the Federals were largely
gone. "The extrication of our division from the
environment of Dug Gap by General
to my mind the most masterly piece of generalship
I saw during the war," wrote Union Lieutenant
Colonel Archibald Blakeley, 78th Pennsylvania
Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Timid generalship squandered an opportunity
for the Confederates to severely damage the
Federal army. General Rosecrans subsequently
decided to consolidate his divided army. General
Bragg would try again to strike the Federal army
before it united at Chickamauga, but he had
perhaps lost his best chance.