November 26, 1863
Chattanooga was lost. Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, with his forces in ragged retreat after their rout at Missionary Ridge, had wanted only to buy enough time for his men to escape to Dalton, Ga., some 30 miles to the southeast. Bragg’s artillery and supply train were bogged down in the mud, and he feared imminent destruction by the pursuing Yankees under “Fighting Joe” Hooker.
Meanwhile, Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne, bringing up the rear, encamped his troops on the west bank of the East Chickamauga Creek for the night of November 25, 1863. Shortly before midnight, however, orders arrived from Bragg sending him forward to Ringgold Gap, just ahead: “Tell Gen. Cleburne to hold this position at all hazards, and keep back the enemy until the artillery and transportation of the army are secure.”
Cleburne rode on to scout the situation before his troops were roused at 3:00 A.M. and marched to the head of the Gap, a narrow railroad cut just beyond the village of Ringgold., Ga. With only two cannon and 4,100 men, he hoped to hold off three times as many Yankees long enough to let Bragg get away. Hooker soon approached, but Cleburne held his fire until the enemy was almost upon him, and then opened up with everything from cannon to pistol. Hooker reeled back, and then tried to outflank Cleburne first to the right, and then to the left, but the Rebels continued the slaughter. “It was the dog-gondest fight of the war,” said an observer. “The ground was piled with dead Yankees; they were piled in heaps . . . From the foot to the top of the hill was covered with the slain, all lying on their faces. It had the appearance of the roof of a house shingled with dead Yankees.” With Bragg’s forces safely away, Cleburn stayed only until just after noon, and then retreated.
The Rebels suffered 221 casualties, while Hooker claimed exactly twice that number, but no one, including Gen. Ulysses Grant, believed that low Yankee estimate.
Fascinating Fact: Cleburne’s orders had been to camp on the east, as opposed to the west bank of the East Chickamauga Creek, but he didn’t want to risk his men’s health by making them ford the rushing stream and sleep in their wet clothes.