The selection of Confederate reports for the battle of Chattanooga that made it into the Official Records is skimpy. There is a report from Bragg, the army commander, but not from either of his corps commanders, Hardee or Breckenridge, and there are no reports from several of the division commanders or their subordinates. Consider the division of William Walker: 3 brigades, 15 regiments, a couple of batteries – yet not a single report contained in the Official Records. So what did they do during the battle?
Modern battle studies (ie: books by Cozzens or Sword) don’t offer much in the way of answers. We learn of the division moving from Lookout Mountain to Missionary ridge on November 23rd, a few mentions of it relative to the position of General Cleburne, and that Maney’s brigade was sent to aid Cleburne late on the 25th. Not much else.
I believe that it is possible to determine the role the division played by piecing together references that involved the division even if it is not mentioned by name. For example, as Sherman’s men established a bridgehead on the south bank of the Tennessee River on the morning of November 24th, they were subject to enemy artillery fire. Wiley Sword, in Mountains Touched with Fire, wrote “there was a swirling sound from afar, the rush of heavy air, and a close, jarring explosion”. Where were these shells coming from? Sword doesn’t say but the only Confederate batteries at that time that had the range and trajectory to shell Sherman’s staging area were those with Walker’s division.
While watching Sherman’s progress that day, Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana reported that “the rebels have men behind the railroad bank to the right of the tunnel,” a reference to Walker’s division. The next day, as Loomis’ brigade advanced it found the enemy occupying the farm and roadway along the base of the ridge beyond Cleburne’s left. Cleburne wrote in his report that this was “a brigade sent by General Hardee to the foot of the ridge.” Again this would have been from Walker’s division.
Putting Walker’s division in context leads to better understanding of decisions and actions during the battle. With Walker’s division on his right front, Sherman had more to contend with than is commonly stated. As they took the heights at the end of the ridge on the 24th, Sherman’s three-division force encountered troops from three different Confederate divisions. Sherman didn’t know that Wright’s brigade of Cheatham’s division was all by itself on Chickamauga creek or that Cleburne was still getting into position but the extent of enemy contact makes Sherman’s decision to consolidate his position more understandable. In addition, acknowledging the place of Walker’s division in stopping Sherman’s attacks on the 25th shows that Cleburne’s stout defense, while the brunt of the action, was not a solo operation.