November 6, 1863 – A Confederate deserter informed the Federal high command that General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was vulnerable to attack.
By this time, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding Federal forces in Chattanooga, was poised to attack Bragg, but he wanted to wait for Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal reinforcements to arrive first. As Sherman continued struggling to move through mountains, rain, and mud to get to Chattanooga, a Confederate deserter entered the Federal lines and claimed that Bragg had sent Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps to destroy the Federals at Knoxville. If true, this severely depleted Bragg’s army and provided an opening for Grant to try breaking out of Chattanooga.
Grant directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, to attack the Confederate right on Missionary Ridge. Grant’s goal was to get between Bragg and Longstreet, making it impossible for them to reunite. However, Thomas argued that it would be better to attack the Confederate left on Lookout Mountain. This would open the Tennessee River even further, ensuring that the Federals would be permanently well supplied. Then, according to Thomas, Sherman could come up and attack Missionary Ridge.
Grant agreed. He revoked the orders for Thomas to attack and explained his latest strategy to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:
“When Sherman crosses at Bridgeport, (Oliver O.) Howard (commanding the Federal XI Corps) will drive the enemy from the west side of Lookout and get possession of the road leading across the foot of the mountain; then join Sherman in his movement up the valley. Thomas will attack vigorously in this valley, and, if the enemy give back, follow them up. Although a large force has gone up the Tennessee Valley that may annoy us, I feel that a decisive movement of the enemy in that direction must prove a disaster to them.”
Sherman finally arrived at Bridgeport with his vanguard on the 13th. Due to bad roads, rugged terrain, foul weather, and sporadic guerrilla attacks, it had taken him 13 days to travel just 170 miles. The rest of his four divisions reached Bridgeport two days later, after a 675-mile boat ride down the Tennessee. From Bridgeport, the troops would continue up the Lookout Valley to Brown’s Ferry. When they reached Chattanooga, Grant would have about 72,000 troops to face Bragg’s 36,000 Confederates.
Grant, Thomas, and Sherman inspected the northern end of Missionary Ridge, where Sherman’s forces would take up positions. The Confederate siege line ran from Missionary Ridge on the right (northeast) to Lookout Mountain, three miles to the left (southwest). The Federals in Chattanooga could see the Confederate camps and cannon looming in the heights above them. After discussing strategy for the next few days, Grant planned to attack on the 21st.
On the Confederate side, Bragg continued his massive reorganization by placing Major General John C. Breckinridge in charge of his Second Corps. Breckinridge replaced Lieutenant General D.H. Hill, who had been highly critical of Bragg’s leadership. Breckinridge also had a bad history with Bragg; he even wanted to challenge Bragg to a duel after sustaining heavy (and possibly pointless) losses at the Battle of Stones River.
Bragg’s army, which formerly had four corps under Leonidas Polk, D.H. Hill, Simon B. Buckner, and James Longstreet, now had just two under Breckinridge and Lieutenant General William Hardee. Bragg wanted to attack the Federal right at Bridgeport, but bad weather prevented him. Bragg was unaware that Sherman’s men were reinforcing Grant. Bragg received a message from Custis Lee, on behalf of President Jefferson Davis:
“His Excellency regrets that the weather and condition of the roads have suspended the movement (on your left), but hopes that such obstacles to your plans will not long obstruct them. He feels assured that you will not allow the enemy to get up all his reinforcements before striking him, if it can be avoided… (the president) does not deem it necessary to call your attention to the importance of doing whatever is to be done before the enemy can collect his forces, as the longer the time given him for this purpose, the greater will be the disparity in numbers.”
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 339-41, 343; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 825-26; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 368, 370-72; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 97, 118; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 431-34; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 676; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35