At the end of 1862 there was a major battle between Federal and Confederate forces in Middle Tennessee on Stone's River, near Murfreesboro. There was great loss of life during this three day battle, but neither side overcame the other. Both armies went into winter quarters ­ the Federals around Nashville and the Confederates in the Tullahoma area. General William Rosecrans, the Federal commander, spent the winter and most of the spring in reorganizing his army and preparing for the spring offensive. The Army of the Cumberland was composed of three line and one reserve corps. Major-General George H. Thomas commanded the army's largest corps, the four division strong 14th Army Corps with approximately 23, 000 effective fighting men. Major-Generals Alexander McCook and Thomas Crittenden veterans of the north Alabama campaign of the previous year, commanded the 20th and 21st Army Corps. Each of these corps had three divisions; McCook's with 13,000 and Crittenden's with 12,000 men. Major-General Gordon Granger led the reserve corps, which was really an oversized division with 5,000 men. Rosecrans used the Cavalry Corps as couriers and to screen the flanks, but did not expect them to perform in combat. Artillery was broken down to brigade level. The combat troops of the Army of the Cumberland were supported by a professional medical and engineering staff.

In June of 1863, Rosecrans began moving against the Confederates, and the Army of Tennessee was gradually pushed further east. During the retreat of the Army of Tennessee toward Chattanooga there were brief, but bloody, clashes at places like Bell Buckle, Liberty Gap, Wartrace, and Hoover's Gap. On July 7, General Braxton Bragg entered Chattanooga with most of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Most of the Confederate officers believed that General Rosecrans would bring the Federal army over the Tennessee River well to the north of Chattanooga. This idea was reinforced when it was learned that General Ambrose E. Burnside was leading a twenty-five thousand man Federal force down into east Tennessee. It was felt that Rosecrans would want to interpose his army between Knoxville and Chattanooga in order to cut off and isolate the Confederate corps commanded by General Simon Buckner at Knoxville. This being the case, when the Confederates began fortifying Chattanooga the greatest attention was directed to the north.

The Confederate belief that the attack would come from the north was reinforced when General Rosecrans sent Colonel John T. Wilder whit his mounted infantry up the Sequatchie Valley and over Walden's Ridge to generate a disturbance along the north side of the river between Chattanooga and the mount of the Hiwassee River. While the Confederates were distracted in this manner, Rosecrans moved his main army to cross the Tennessee River on a wide front well below Chattanooga.. Two divisions of McCook's 20th Army Corps crossed at Caperton's Ferry below Bridgeport, Alabama. The other division of the 20th Corps and two divisions of the 14th Army Corps crossed at Bridgeport. One of the remaining divisions of the 14th Corps crossed at Battle Creek and the other at Love's Ferry in Marion County Tennessee. All of Crittenden's 21st Army Corps crossed at Love's Ferry. The entire army then moved by different routes into Georgia. When Bragg learned that he was about to be flanked and cut off from Atlanta by this movement, he left Chattanooga and retreated south toward LaFayette in Walker County Georgia.

General McCook's 20th Corps rapidly crossed Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain, reaching the Alpine community in Chatooga County Georgia. Thomas' 14th Corps came through Dade County and started up Lookout Mountain at Johnson's Crook. Crittenden brought his 21st Corps into Dade County and took the road north to occupy Chattanooga. General Granger brought the Reserve Corps to Chattanooga. The first division from the 14th Corps to cross Lookout Mountain, commanded by General James Negley, was turned back to the base of the mountain by the Confederate attack in the Battle of Davis Crossroads on September 10­11, 1863. McCook was ordered to Negley's assistance, and, being unable to get through on the eastern side of the mountain, crossed back over Lookout and came up Johnson's Crook.

Colonel Wilder led a raid into Catoosa County, but was turned back by Confederate cavalry. Crittenden brought the 21st Army Corps south the vicinity of the Lee and Gordon's Mills in Walker County. Unknown to Rosecrans, Bragg received massive reinforcements. General Simon B. Buckner brought his corps down from Knoxville. General John C. Breckinridge brought his men up from Mississippi and General James Longstreet brought two divisions down from Virginia. Breckinridge and Longstreet came by train, arriving at Catoosa Station below Ringgold.

A major objective of General Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee during the Chickamauga campaign was to block the Federal Army from Chattanooga. Similarly, General William Rosecrans' Federal Army of the Cumberland made ever effort to keep this line open. The Federal lifeline was dependant on control of at least one of two roads. One of these was the LaFayette Road, passing through Rossville Gap and roughly following the route of the modern Highway 27. The other was the Dry Valley Road, called by one observer "more an expanded trail than a true wagon road," that crossed West Chickamauga Creek at Owen's Ford, then ran northward through the foothills of Missionary Ridge, and eventually passed through the Ridge at McFarland's Gap before continuing through Rossville and ultimately on to Chattanooga. Denial of access to the "long and narrow defile" at McFarland's Gap on September 20 could have resulted in the complete destruction of the Federal Army.

The Chickamauga Campaign Trail will follow the troop movements through these four north-west Georgia counties.