HEADQUARTERS POLK'S CORPS, ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
Missionary Ridge, September 28, 1863.
COLONEL: In reply to your communication* I would respectfully submit to the commanding general the following statement, explanatory of the failure to make an attack upon the enemy, as ordered, at daylight on the 20th:
After leaving army headquarters on the night of the 19th, where I received a verbal order to attack the enemy at daylight, I rode immediately to my headquarters, beyond Alexander's Bridge, where I arrived 11 p. m.
On the way, accompanied by General Breckinridge, I met with a staff officer of Lieutenant-General Hill, to whom I communicated my orders, and from whom I learned that General Hill's headquarters were at Thedford's Ford. I asked him to say to General Hill that my headquarters were beyond and near to Alexander's Bridge, and that I desired to see him there. On arriving at my headquarters, I issued orders, dated 11.30 [o'clock], to Lieutenant-General Hill and Major-General Cheatham to attack the enemy simultaneously at daylight, General Walker's division being held in reserve.
I also posted two couriers at the bridge to keep up fires and inform persons where my headquarters of the respective generals-General Hill's to Thedford's Ford. The couriers to Generals Cheatham and Walker returned promptly. The courier sent to General Hill, after searching for the general through the night, returned about daylight, saying that he could not find him. General Hill did not make and not knowing where to find General Hill, I sent staff officers in haste directly to Generals Breckinridge and Cleburne, with information that General Hill could not be found, and with orders to make the attack at once, and rode myself to the front. Shortly afterward I received, in reply to these orders, a communication from General Hill, stating that his divisions were getting their rations, and would not be ready to move for an hour or more, and also reporting that the battle-field. On reaching General Hill's line, I saw General Cleburne, of General Hill's corps, and asked if he had received my order to attack. He said he had received it in the presence of General Hill. I found also that General had delayed his attack in consequence of a misapprehension on his part as to the relation between his line and that of General Cheatham, he supposing that Cheatham's line was formed, as he said, on his left at nearly a right angle to his own. In this he was mistaken. The relation of the lines were such as is indicated in the accompanying diagram.+ General Hill mistook the line of one of Cheatham's reserve brigades (Jackson's) for that of his front line. The order to attack was then repeated and executed.
Respectfully, colonel, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant Colonel GEORGE WILLIAM BRENT,
*See p. 54.
+See p. 48.