The Battle of Chattanooga: Lookout Mountain

November 24, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued their efforts to fight their way out of Chattanooga, including scaling the formidable Lookout Mountain and securing their fragile supply line once and for all.

After seizing Orchard Knob the previous day, Grant initially expected the next major action to take place against the right flank of General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, anchored on Missionary Ridge. Major General William T. Sherman commanded the Federals in that sector, with orders to seize Tunnel Hill at the base of the ridge’s northern end.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

On this dark, dreary day, Sherman deployed his four divisions into attack positions, with pontoon bridges laid for the men to cross the Tennessee River. Contesting Sherman’s advance was a Confederate division under Major General Patrick R. Cleburne defending Tunnel Hill. The Federals forced a river crossing just south of Chickamauga Creek, about six miles above Chattanooga, around 1 p.m.

With Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis’s Federal division guarding the bridge, the remaining Federals advanced and pushed back a Confederate brigade. They then seized the high ground in their front and notified Sherman, still at the bridgehead, that they seized Tunnel Hill. However, the Federals only seized a detached spur overlooking a ravine that separated them from their true objective.

On the other end of the line to the southwest, Major General Joseph Hooker’s Federals had orders to conduct a demonstration against the Confederates on Lookout Mountain. Initially, Grant intended for Sherman to capture Missionary Ridge, thereby separating Bragg from Lieutenant General James Longstreet besieging the Federals at Knoxville. Once this was accomplished, Lookout Mountain would fall with little effort. But Hooker pleaded to take the offensive, and Grant finally relented by allowing him to give battle only if the demonstration succeeded.

Federal Major General Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Sonofthesouth.net

Hooker had three divisions totaling about 12,000 men. At 8 a.m., his lead division under Brigadier General John W. Geary began using felled trees to bridge Lookout Creek and scale the northwest face of the 1,100-foot-high mountain. Brigadier General Charles Cruft’s division came up on Geary’s left, and Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus’s division came up on Cruft’s left.

Bragg had shifted most of his Confederates to Missionary Ridge, leaving just one division of 2,694 men under Major General Carter L. Stevenson to defend against the Federal advance, along with some guns on the plateau. They could offer little resistance.

Rain and heavy fog slowed the Federal progress, but it hampered the Confederates as well. Federal artillerists at Moccasin Point could not find their range, nor could their Confederate counterparts atop the mountain. The fog prevented the Federal high command at Orchard Knob from seeing the action. The command included Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, who later nicknamed the engagement “The Battle Above the Clouds.”

The Federals pushed Stevenson back beyond the Craven farmhouse, also known simply as the “white house.” Hooker reported that the Confederates “were hurled in great numbers over the rock and precipices into the valley.” Bragg had promised to send Stevenson reinforcements if he requested, but when Stevenson sent his request, he received no immediate response.

Bragg finally replied at 2:30 p.m. by ordering Stevenson to “fight the enemy as you retire” and join the rest of the Confederates on Missionary Ridge. Stevenson did not want to pull out while his men were still engaged, so he directed gradual withdrawals until the last defense line fell back around 8 p.m., under cover of heavy guns. The Confederates burned the bridge over Chattanooga Creek leading to Rossville Gap as they withdrew.

Grant telegraphed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck at sundown:

“The fighting today progressed favorably. Sherman carried the end of Missionary Ridge, and his right is now at the tunnel, and his left at Chickamauga Creek. Troops from Lookout Valley carried the point of the mountain, and now hold the eastern slope and a point high up. Hooker reports 2,000 prisoners taken, besides which a small number have fallen into our hands from Missionary Ridge.”

However, Sherman had not yet reached Tunnel Hill, Hooker had not captured the summit of Lookout Mountain, and his Federals captured less than 200 Confederates. It was only after 8 p.m. that Hooker’s forces advanced and occupied the empty summit. That night, the rain stopped and a total eclipse of the moon appeared. Confederates considered this a bad sign.

Grant did not think highly of Hooker’s effort; he later wrote in his memoirs, “The battle of Lookout Mountain is one of the romances of the war. There was no such battle, and no action even worthy to be called a battle on Lookout Mountain. It is all poetry.” Nevertheless, taking the mountain enabled the Federals to no longer rely on the tenuous “cracker line” for supplies. It also enabled Hooker to move into Rossville Gap and operate against the Confederate left and rear.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 80-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 344; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 848-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 375-76; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 117-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 33-35, 65-67, 182; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 437; 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. 677; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133, 445-47, 498-99

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