In the summer of 1862 a Confederate Army, commanded by General Braxton Bragg, again
invaded Kentucky. The Union Army to which the 35th Indiana regiment was assigned
was ordered in pursuit, fighting several skirmishes with isolated Confederate units
until Bragg was finally caught on October 8, 1862, near Perryville, Kentucky. Although
Christian and his regiment participated in the Battle of Perryville, which forced
Bragg's retreat from Kentucky, they arrived on the field late in the battle and
saw only minor action.
During the Civil War it was common for one soldier, upon meeting another, to ask
"have you seen the elephant?" This slang expression, and reference to an animal
then considered rare, wondrous and exotic, meant "have you actually experienced
combat?". While Christian may have participated in earlier skirmishes, including
a sharp little fight his regiment was involved in at La Vergne, in Tennessee, he
certainly "saw the elephant" in late 1862, when Bragg attempted yet another invasion.
This time Bragg was trying to regain control of Nashville and all of central Tennessee.
The Union Army, including the 35th Indiana, met Bragg's army near the town of Murfreesboro,
on Stone's River, southeast of Nashville.
The Battle of Stones River
The great Battle of Stones River, called Murfreesboro in the south, was fought between
December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863, in a cold drenching rain which turned the
ground to soft mud. 56,000 Federals and 51,000 Confederates fought what one of Christian's
Generals later called "one of the most fiercely contested and bloody conflicts of
the war". Each side sustained about 15,000 casualties.
The Battle of Stones River
The 35th Indiana was in the thick of the fighting, defending a hill on the Union
extreme left flank against a desperate Confederate charge which, if successful,
would have won the battle. His regiment fought well and bravely, and defeated the
attack, doing more than its share to secure the victory. The cost was high, and
more than a third of his regiment was lost. Bragg was forced to retreat again and,
licking its wounds, the Union Army pursued. Bragg was driven from Tennessee and
was forced to abandon the city of Chattanooga, which was captured by the Federals.
When Bragg's army retreated into Georgia, the Union Army continued in pursuit, but
now in the deep south Bragg was able to quickly gather strong reinforcements. The
Union general, Rosecrans, recklessly blundered ahead, and allowed large gaps to
develop between his units.
They ran into a stronger and better positioned Confederate force defending Chickamauga
Creek, just north and west of Atlanta. There, on September 19 and 20, 1863, amid
heavily wooded terrain which hampered movement and visibility, the two armies fought
a great battle, one of the most significant of the war.
The Battle of Chickamauga
At the Battle of Chickamauga the Union Army of 57,000 was defeated by 71,000 rebels,
who were able to penetrate those gaps and attack Union units from three sides at
once. As shattered Federal forces broke and ran a Union General, George Thomas,
massed a force to block the Confederate advance and prevent a disaster. Sometimes
finding themselves surrounded, Thomas and his force, which included the 35th Indiana,
held firmly. They somehow stopped the rebel advance in its tracks, prevented a Union
rout, and earned a place in history for Thomas that day, along with the nickname
"The Rock of Chickamauga". Union losses of 17,000, actually less than the Confederate
loss of over 18,000, were a tribute to their tenacious defense.
Already depleted at Stone's River, the 35th Indiana was virtually destroyed at Chickamauga.
After the battle the regiment had to be pulled out of the Federal line and reconstituted
by combining it with the remnants of other Indiana units.
A remarkably high proportion of the Union losses, about 6,500, were soldiers who
were captured by the Confederates. Christian was one of that number. According to
an affidavit submitted by his company commander, Christian was captured the day
after the battle, while he was engaged in removing and bringing to safety some of
his wounded comrades.Next »