Author Robert C. Conner reflects on the anniversary of The Battle of Chickamauga:
The Civil War was such a huge event, with so many extraordinary stories, that much of its history is unknown to most Americans. For example, 150 years ago this September 20, an obscure general made a decision at the Battle of Chickamauga that saved the Army of the Cumberland, and possibly the United States of America.
Chickamauga was a Union defeat, but it would have been a catastrophe had not General Gordon Granger marched on his own authority to reinforce Gen. George Thomas, joining him in a stand which staved off the Confederate onslaught. Without Granger’s intervention, the entire army might well have been forced to surrender instead of making it back to Chattanooga, where it won a battle two months later in which Granger again played a central role. Had Granger not acted at Chickamauga, the Confederate cause would have been reinvigorated, with a corresponding increase in Northern war-weariness. This would have had a profound impact on events both military and political in 1864, possibly leading to the defeat of Abraham Lincoln’s re-election campaign and enabling the Confederacy to establish its independence.
In those charged times, the actions of ordinary men (and some women), many still obscure, carried great weight and drama.
Granger did much else of note during the Civil War. And immediately afterward, when commanding all U.S. troops in Texas, he was the key actor in what has become known as “Juneteenth,” the freeing of all slaves in that state. Granger’s famous order of June 19, 1865, was one of the most significant documents of Reconstruction.
Granger’s Army career before and after the Civil War included serious combat duty in Mexico, much service on the Indian frontier – where in 1872 he helped negotiate peace with the Apache chief Cochise while also leading a campaign to crush the Comancheros — and providing political support to President Andrew Johnson.
He was a great character: brave, intelligent, honest, and genuinely concerned for the welfare of his troops — but sometimes surly, swaggering, idle, drunk, cynical, politically opportunistic, and disputatious up to the point of insubordination. A tough disciplinarian, he usually won the confidence and often the affection of his men, and was smart enough to back down when his temper had placed him in an untenable position. But his thorny character put him at odds with some fellow officers, including Ulysses S. Grant, to the detriment of his career.
It’s stories of men like Granger that make the Civil War era so endlessly fascinating, yet many of them have gone essentially untold.
Casemate is pleased to announce the publication of Robert C. Conner’s General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind “Juneteenth,” to be released in October 2013.