The Battle of Chattanooga: Orchard Knob

November 23, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant began efforts to break his Federals out of Chattanooga by assaulting forward Confederate positions at the base of Missionary Ridge.

By this date, Grant was finally ready to break the two-month siege of Chattanooga, conducted by General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. According to Grant’s plan:

  • Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals would launch the main attack on the Confederate right on Missionary Ridge, north of Chattanooga
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals would demonstrate against the Confederate center from within Chattanooga
  • Major General Joseph Hooker’s Federals would await developments in front of Lookout Mountain, southwest of Chattanooga

As the day began, Sherman’s three divisions, along with one of Thomas’s divisions, were still on their way to their attack positions.

Meanwhile, Major General Bushrod R. Johnson’s Confederate division was moving off Missionary Ridge, having been ordered by Bragg to board trains at Chickamauga Station and reinforce Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederates laying siege to Knoxville, to the northeast. Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division was to follow, leaving Missionary Ridge virtually undefended.

Confederate deserters soon filtered into the Federal lines and claimed that their comrades on Missionary Ridge were retreating. When Grant received this news, he wrote, “The truth or falsity of the deserters should be ascertained at once. If he is really falling back, Sherman can commence at once laying his pontoon trains, and we can save a day.”

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit:

But when Grant learned that Sherman was not yet ready to attack, he directed Thomas to proceed against the Confederate center anyway. Thomas deployed two divisions of Major General Gordon Granger’s IV Corps, supported by XI Corps under Major General Oliver O. Howard. These Federals, totaling about 14,000 men, were to conduct a “reconnaissance in force” on Orchard Knob, a 100-foot-high foothill on Missionary Ridge, in the front-center of the Confederate line.

Granger’s two divisions, led by Major General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood, assembled in full military dress as if to conduct a formal review about a mile in front of the Confederates’ forward line. Grant, Thomas, Granger, Howard, and Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana watched the “parade” from Fort Wood, in the Federal rear.

The Confederates, part of Major General John C. Breckinridge’s corps, came out of their defenses to watch what they thought was a “military pageant.” Breckinridge watched with Bragg from atop Missionary Ridge. As the Federals moved across the open plain toward the Confederate line, Bragg dismissed the movement as a review. Breckinridge said, “General Bragg, in about 15 minutes, you are going to see the damnedest review you ever saw. I am going to my command.” Still skeptical, Bragg nevertheless wrote Cleburne, who was loading his troops on trains at Chickamauga Station, to “halt such portions of your command as have not yet left at Chickamauga.”

At 1:30 p.m., an hour after the “parade” began, a cannon fired from Fort Wood signaling the Federals to charge the enemy line. They advanced without artillery support to further deceive the Confederates into complacency. The Confederates hurried back to their defenses, but as the Federals came on, each defense line collapsed into the next until the Confederates were pushed all the way back up Missionary Ridge.

The Federals planted their flag on Orchard Knob around 3 p.m. Thomas notified T.J. Wood via signalman, “You have gained too much to withdraw. Hold your position and I will support you.” Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s division advanced on the Federal left and XI Corps came up on the right to secure the line. This enabled Thomas to bring his entire army (i.e., the Federal center) up to the foot of Missionary Ridge.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit:

Bragg sent another, more urgent, message to Cleburne: “We are heavily engaged. Move rapidly to these headquarters.” At least 5,000 Confederates of Johnson’s division and part of Cleburne’s had already left for Knoxville, but at least Bragg still had the remaining 6,000 to come back and defend his right. Had Grant waited another day to advance, those 6,000 would have been gone as well.

Bragg had initially believed that the real Federal threat would be to his left at Lookout Mountain, but now he realized that the Federals planned to attack his right. He therefore ordered Lieutenant General William Hardee to pull his entire corps off Lookout Mountain except for Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s lone division.

Stevenson argued that he lacked the manpower and knowledge of the terrain to put up an adequate defense in case of attack. Bragg assured him that he would send reinforcements if Stevenson needed them, but Stevenson most likely would not since the main attack would probably come against the Confederate right. Bragg positioned Cleburne’s returning troops on the extreme right, near Tunnel Hill.

Grant moved his headquarters to Orchard Knob and modified his strategy based on this day’s unexpected success. He had initially planned to launch his main attack against the Confederate right, but now he ordered Hooker (with Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus’s division of Sherman’s army) to demonstrate against and possibly capture Lookout Mountain on the Confederate left. This would enable Hooker’s Federals to enter Rossville Gap and threaten the Confederate rear.



Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37;; 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; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 374-75; 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. 436; 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, 547


Breaking Out of Chattanooga

November 22, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant prepared to fight his way out of Chattanooga as General Braxton Bragg sent more of his Confederate Army of Tennessee away.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit:

Grant, commanding the Federals under siege in Chattanooga, planned to launch his long-awaited attack on the Confederate besiegers on the 21st. This required the 17,000-man XV Corps of Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee to march northeast from Bridgeport, Alabama, over Lookout Mountain, and north through Chattanooga to extend the left of Grant’s line to meet Bragg’s right flank on Missionary Ridge.

Meanwhile, Major General George H. Thomas’s 36,000-man Army of the Cumberland held the Federal center in Chattanooga, and Major General Joseph Hooker’s 11,000 men from the Army of the Potomac’s XI and XII corps held Lookout Valley west of Chattanooga.

By the 20th, Sherman’s vanguard finally reached the Brown’s Ferry pontoon bridge, having marched 27 miles in rain and mud from Bridgeport. This slow advance meant that Grant could not attack as scheduled. As Sherman’s westerners trudged along, they encountered Hooker’s easterners for the first time, and Sherman later recalled:

“It was on this occasion that the Fifteenth Corps gained its peculiar badge: as the men were trudging along the deeply-cut, muddy road, of a cold, drizzly day, one of our Western Soldiers left his ranks and joined a party of the Twelfth Corps at their camp-fire. They got into a conversation, the Twelfth Corps men asking what troops we were, etc., etc. In turn, our fellow (who had never seen a corps-badge, and noticed that everything was marked with a star) asked if they were all brigadier-generals. Of course they were not, but the star was their corps badge, and every wagon, tent, hat, etc., had its star. Then the Twelfth Corps men inquired what corps he belonged to, and he answered, ‘The Fifteenth Corps.’ ‘What is your badge?’ ‘Why,’ said he (and he was an Irishman), suiting the action to the word, ‘40 rounds in the cartridge box and 20 in the pocket!’”

A New York soldier described Sherman’s men as they passed:

“This army looked quite unlike our own. They all wore large hats instead of caps; were carelessly dressed, both officers and men, and marched in a very irregular way, seemingly not caring to keep closed up and in regular order. They were a large fine type of men, all westerners; it was easy to see that at any serious time they would close up and be there. As they passed by we viewed their line and a good deal of friendly chaffing was done. They expressed their opinion that we were tin soldiers. ‘Oh look at their little caps. Where are your paper collars? Oh how clean you look, do you have soap?’”

As Sherman’s Federals continued moving toward their positions opposite Missionary Ridge, Grant received a message from Bragg under a flag of truce: “As there may still be some noncombatants in Chattanooga, I deem it proper to notify you that prudence would dictate their early withdrawal.” This indicated that Bragg may attack soon. Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis requested that General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding Confederate forces in Mississippi, send more reinforcements to Bragg.

The next day, Grant began finalizing his plan of attack. Although Thomas urged an all-out attack on Lookout Mountain, Grant planned for all three Federal armies to attack to not only drive Bragg away from Chattanooga, but push him away from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps, which was laying siege to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville, about 100 miles northeast.

When Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck informed Grant that Burnside was surrounded at Knoxville, Grant replied, “Our attack on the enemy’s right has not yet commenced. Troops have been moving night and day ever since Sherman appeared at Bridgeport, but narrow and bad roads have made an earlier attack impossible. Owing to heavy rain last night, it will be impossible to attack Bragg before Monday (the 23rd).”

The heavy rain destroyed the pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry and left one of Sherman’s divisions under Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus isolated on the wrong side of the Tennessee River. Grant reassigned that division to Hooker’s force in the Lookout Valley instead. Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis’s division of Thomas’s army was transferred to Sherman’s command.

Thomas continued arguing in favor of a concentrated attack on Lookout Mountain, warning Grant that Bragg might discover Sherman’s movement and strengthen his right. But Bragg had no idea that Sherman planned to attack Missionary Ridge. He reported, “Sherman’s force has arrived, and a movement on our left is indicated.” Bragg guessed that Sherman was moving to his right to reinforce Burnside, not to threaten Missionary Ridge. Because of this, Bragg urged Longstreet to hurry and destroy Burnside, then come back to rejoin him at Chattanooga.

Longstreet directed Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division to attack the Federal works outside Knoxville, stating that casualties “will not be great compared with the importance of the move.” McLaws was to attack on the night of the 22nd, but he told Longstreet that such a move would be futile. Longstreet informed Bragg that his force was not strong enough to “warrant my taking his works by assault. Can’t you spare me another division? It will shorten the work here very much.”

When Bragg warned Longstreet that Sherman was coming to oppose him, Longstreet wrote, “There can be no force to move against my rear, unless it comes from your front, and it cannot come from there without your being advised in time to send more troops to me.”

Bragg then dispatched an officer to personally inform Longstreet that he would be sending 11,000 troops under Major Generals Bushrod R. Johnson and Patrick R. Cleburne, with Cleburne in overall command. These troops currently held Missionary Ridge. Johnson’s command left by rail immediately, while Cleburne waited for the train to return for his men.

This left Bragg with less than 35,000 men to face Grant’s revitalized army of nearly 70,000. Based on Thomas’s persistence, Grant slightly modified his plan by changing Thomas’s attack in the center to a mere demonstration instead. Sherman would assault the Confederate right, and Hooker would act based on the progress made by Sherman and Thomas on the morning of the 23rd.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 343; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 374; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 118-20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 435-36

From Henry Curtis, 37th Illinois

Letter from Lieutenant Henry Curtis of the 37th Illinois Volunteer Infantry (also staff officer to Brigadier General Julius White)

Knoxville, Tennessee

November 21, 1863

Illinois State Flag | Image Credit:

Being a rainy day and nothing doing, I will write you, though when this will get through is very problematical. On the night of the 13th, we got word that the enemy were building a pontoon bridge six miles below us. I took 25 cavalry and made for it, leaving orders for a regiment section of artillery to follow.

It was very dark and there was but one road down the point, at the extremity of which the bridge was and the woods each side were impassable with undergrowth. I expected a vigorous opposition and never hated a job worse in my life. However, by scientific maneuvering, I got to within 250 yards of the bridge and to within 50 yards of a heavy picket without firing.

Sent for the infantry to come out, but they had been ordered back–could get no further than I was, as the road was a narrow lane. I waited until near daylight and fell back. Reported I could get no more men. I went down again with 30 men, about halfway, the rebels being advanced. Took a position in an old church and held it with some occasional firing. (Brigadier General Julius) White wanted me to go on, but I sent him word that I could not without more men. Burnside had now got to our position (where the brigade was). I had sent a small regiment of cavalry to my aid. They were scared and stayed some four miles back. Burnside sent me orders to go on. Of course I went with what I had, though I had told White and him a dozen times I could do nothing but should get whipped and surrounded. Charged up a big hill in front, got the fire of about 200 men and got well whipped in a very few moments. Drew back and had just formed a line when about 100 rebels opened on my rear from the only road to get off by. They were right on us, and the chance looked bad. Only one side was open and they were making for that. Away we went over fences and through brush on the full run and bullets flying thick enough. Got out at last, losing three killed, some half dozen wounded and as many horses. Lost about six prisoners, their horses being shot and they caught.

White was coming up with the brigade, but I did not know it, I could only get back by circling round some 15 miles at Lenoir, a town six miles from our camp.

Camped for the night, it being dark, and the next morning went after the brigade. Burnside had gone on the evening before with the 9th A.C. and our brigade and driven the rebels nearly to the bridgehead. I found them on the retreat again, it not appearing advisable for him to go on. We lost some 100 men or more driving them in. Hope B. got it satisfactorily into his head, that 20 cavalry couldn’t go to the bridge!

The bridge is precisely where I told the chief of engineers it would be, but he, being a West Point man, of course would not admit I would know anything! We fell back to Lenoir that night, and I went into line. Only one small brush in the night and we killed a couple of rebels…

Our brigade (one being away) took the advance at 3:00 a.m. At 12:00 p.m., we went into line at Campbell’s Station, 15 miles from Knoxville. The 9th A.C. was not fighting heavily. We were to let it pass and check the rebels. They came down thick, but we broke from lines and held them until dark. Fell back a mile, our brigade holding the enemy and coming off splendidly. General B. said he never saw troops behave so well on a field of battle.

At dark, started for this place, our brigade in rear, arrived next morning and are now in position and fortifying. Got no hits myself. One shell hit right beside my horse and two shrapnel burst right in my face but never a scratch did I get. We’re now on the defensive here–enemy are very slow and I think can’t take us in; if they do you’ll not see this. We fire occasionally and so do they. We have enough food for present purposes and are in good health.

Was pretty well worn out when I got here, having no sleep, nothing to eat, and being in the saddle day and night from the start some 24 hours longer than most of the others. Am now quite recuperated. November 29th–still besieged. The rebels made assaults early this morning but were repulsed. We took some 300 prisoners. December 4th, reinforcements arrived at last.


Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 177-80

Northern Virginia: Meade Looks to Advance

November 21, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade received intelligence that his Federal Army of the Potomac now held a major numerical advantage over General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Meade therefore looked to launch another offensive.

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit:

Following the Bristoe campaign in October, Meade had settled his army into camps between the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, presumably until the spring. However, this changed when a detailed report, partly derived from information provided by Confederate deserters, stated that Lee had less than 40,000 effectives in his army, while Meade had 84,274.

Lee actually had 48,586 effectives, but Meade still vastly outnumbered him, and his Federals had been emboldened by their recent, albeit minor, victories at Bristoe and Rappahannock stations. Moreover, the report indicated that Lee’s two corps were spread out across 35 miles and unable to guard the lower fords on the Rapidan. Meade therefore planned to hurry his five infantry corps down the Rapidan, move down the Orange Turnpike, and overwhelm Lee’s right and rear before the remaining Confederates came up in support.

While Meade planned, Lee hosted President Jefferson Davis for a four-day military conference at Lee’s headquarters. Lee once more stressed the importance of having shoes for his barefooted men, as well as adequate food, clothing, and shelter for the upcoming winter. On the night of the 24th, Lee received word that Meade had requisitioned large amounts of rations for his troops, indicating he would soon be in motion again.

Lee alerted his outposts. Guessing that Meade would cross the Rapidan and try advancing through either the Wilderness or Spotsylvania toward the Richmond & Fredericksburg Railroad, Lee prepared to move his army to block the Federals. A cavalry clash near Ely’s Ford on the 25th seemed to confirm Lee’s guess.

Meade had planned to move out on the 23rd, but rains turned the roads to mud. He announced to his corps commanders, “On account of the unfavorable appearances of the morning,” the advance would not begin until the 24th. But rain caused postponements for another two days, during which time Federal cavalry reported that the major thoroughfares were still passable. The troopers also noted that Confederates were not guarding Ely’s Ford on the Rapidan.

On the 25th, Meade issued orders for the movement to begin the next morning, Thanksgiving Day. The Federals were to make a wide swing around the Confederate right to land on the enemy flank and rear. Meade explained that speed and stealth were of the utmost importance, therefore each man would carry 10 days’ rations and leave their supply trains behind.

Major General William French’s III Corps was to cross the Rapidan at Jacob’s Ford, opposite Mine Run, with Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps following. Major General Gouverneur Warren’s II Corps was to cross farther downstream at Germanna Ford. Major General George Sykes’s V Corps would cross even farther down at Culpeper Mine, followed by Major General John Newton’s I Corps. The five corps would then unite, with French in the lead, and move west to hit the Confederate right with overwhelming force.

The Federals mobilized at 6 a.m., a half-hour before sunrise, on the 26th. A heavy fog hid their movement from the Confederates as they moved down their assigned paths to the Rapidan fords. However, French’s corps started late and experienced traffic delays. Upon reaching Jacob’s Ford, engineers did not bring enough pontoons to span the river. Consequently, French did not cross until near sundown. By day’s end, French, Warren, and Sykes had crossed the Rapidan, but the element of speed was lost, as Meade had covered only half the distance he expected to cover that day.

The element of stealth was also lost when Confederate signalmen atop Clark’s Mountain, along with cavalry, spotted the movement. Lee had expected the Federals to attack the Richmond & Fredericksburg Railroad, but their movement against his right worked even more to his advantage. He held strong positions, and the Federal delays gave him time to shift more troops to that sector of his line.

Lee pulled elements of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps east to bolster the Second Corps under Major General Jubal Early (temporarily replacing the ailing Lieutenant General Richard Ewell) on the right. Lee directed Early to cross Mine Run and move east to face Meade’s advance.

Early’s three divisions moved along three parallel roads leading to Robertson’s Tavern, with Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s men the farthest north (the Confederate left), Major General Robert Rodes in the center, and Brigadier General Harry Hays’s men moving along the Orange Turnpike to the south. Hill’s corps moved about a mile south on parallel roads.

Meade directed the Federals to begin moving at 7 a.m., with French holding the right (unknowingly moving directly toward Johnson), Warren holding the center on the Orange Turnpike (unknowingly moving toward Hays), and Sykes holding the left (unknowingly moving toward Hill). Sedgwick and Newton were in reserve.

French and Warren were supposed to converge at Robertson’s Tavern, but French took a wrong fork in the road and had to countermarch for several hours. Warren’s corps reached the tavern unsupported, where they were confronted by Hays’s Confederates around Locust Grove. French informed Meade that he was waiting for Warren, but Meade’s chief of staff, Major General Andrew Humphreys, responded:

“What are you waiting for? No orders have been sent you to wait for General Warren anywhere upon your Route… He is waiting for you. The commanding general directs that you move forward as rapidly as possible to Robertson’s Tavern, where your corps is wanted.”

French finally came up on Warren’s right and met resistance from Johnson’s Confederate division near Payne’s Farm. French deployed his lead division under Brigadier General Joseph B. Carr to face Johnson as both he and Hays began linking with Rodes in the middle.

The Confederates repelled two Federal charges and then counterattacked. As Johnson reported, “The resistance of the enemy was stubborn, but he was steadily driven back for a considerable distance through the woods and pursued across an open field.” The Confederates soon advanced into heavy woods and became disorganized. They were then hit by heavy Federal canister fire. Johnson ultimately withdrew and repelled more Federal attacks before nightfall ended the fighting.

The Confederates lost 545 men, including Brigadier Generals George Steuart and John M. Jones (both wounded). On their right, Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry barely held Sykes at bay. As Stuart’s line appeared to be breaking and the Federals were about to turn the Confederate flank, Hill’s corps arrived to link with Early and drive the Federals back. Lee then pulled his main force back to defenses on a ridge along the west bank of Mine Run.

Federal losses were unrecorded, but this engagement ruined the element of surprise that Meade so desperately needed. Meade blamed French for his delays crossing the Rapidan on the 26th and taking the wrong road on this day. With Lee entrenched behind Mine Run, Meade now could only attack (and most likely fail) or retreat.


References; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19153; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 346; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 873-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 378; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6488, 6499-511; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 497; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 438-39; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 563-64

The Dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery

November 19, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln made a “few appropriate remarks” during the dedication of the new Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Lincoln left the home of event organizer David Wills, where he had spent the night, at 10 a.m. He wore a black suit, black stovepipe hat, and white gauntlets. He rode on horseback to the procession gathering at the town square; some remarked that the horse was too small for him. The procession included six governors and many other statesmen, military officers, ambassadors, politicians, and public figures. The grand marshal was Lincoln’s friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon.

The procession participants slowly marched to the new cemetery, less than a mile away. Somewhere between 6 and 9,000 people formed a semicircle around a platform to witness the ceremony. Local merchants sold food, battle artifacts, and flowers. Lincoln chatted with the other dignitaries on the platform as they waited for keynote speaker Edward Everett to appear.

Upon Everett’s arrival, the ceremony began with a song played by Birgfeld’s Band of Philadelphia. Reverend Thomas Stockton, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, said a prayer in which he accused the Confederacy of being “prepared to cast a chain of Slavery around the form of Freedom, binding life and death together forever.” Stockton said that the Confederate victory on the first day at Gettysburg “was the mockery of God and man.”

After a song by the Marine Band, Everett rose and delivered a two-hour account of the battle. A correspondent noted:

“The brave old statesman seemed imbued with the genius of oratory. His voice was clear, satisfying, every note in tune, no signs of age. He never hesitated for a word, and as his oration was historical, and argumentative, with no special flights of eloquence, showed a marvelous memory.”

Everett concluded by proclaiming that “there will be no brighter page than that which relates the Battles of Gettysburg.”

Benjamin B. French, the Commissioner of Public Buildings who oversaw the redecoration of the White House when the Lincolns moved in, sang a hymn he had written for the event. Someone reported that “the music ran on a bit.” Lamon then introduced the president.

Lincoln rose from his seat in the front row, “the large, bundled up figure untwisting and adjusting itself into reasonable conditions.” He “slowly adjusted his glasses, and took from his pocket what seemed to be a page of ordinary foolscap paper, quietly unfolded it, looked for the place, and began to read.”

Lincoln delivering his address | Image Credit:

Lincoln’s speech was less than two minutes long and contained just 272 words. He focused not on the specific battle, but instead on the war’s overall significance. He described the change in the war’s purpose from merely preserving the Union to preserving freedom for all Americans. Invoking the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln touched upon principles of equality and spoke of “a new birth of freedom.”

Because of the speech’s “almost shocking brevity,” many people held back their applause, thinking that more was coming. Photographers did not have time to capture the moment on film. Lincoln believed his address was a “flat failure.” After the ceremony, he dined at the home of David Wills, held an unscheduled reception, attended a patriotic gathering at the Presbyterian church, and finally left Gettysburg at 6:30 p.m. He returned to Washington around midnight, ailing from a mild form of smallpox.

Opposition newspapers skewered the president’s address. Wilbur F. Storey of the Chicago Times wrote, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

Storey called the address “a perversion of history so flagrant that the most extended charity cannot regard it as otherwise than willful.” He added that the soldiers fought at Gettysburg “to uphold this constitution, and the Union created by it,” not to “dedicate the nation to ‘the proposition that all men are created equal.’”

The New York World pointed out that “this United States” was not created by the Declaration of Independence, but was “the result of the ratification of a compact known as the Constitution,” which offered no promise of social equality. Others argued that Lincoln hypocritically stressed a belief in government “of the people, by the people and for the people” while waging a war to deny those rights to the Confederacy.

However, the Republican press reacted favorably to Lincoln’s speech. The Chicago Tribune stated, “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.” John W. Forney wrote in the Washington Chronicle that the speech, “though short, glittered with gems, evincing the gentleness and goodness of heart peculiar to him.”

According to the Providence Journal, “We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than the brief one which the President made…(could) the most elaborate and splendid oration be more beautiful, more touching, more inspiring, than those thrilling words of the President?”

The Springfield Republican of Massachusetts called the “little speech… deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma.” George W. Curtis of Harper’s Weekly wrote, “The few words of the President were from the heart to the heart… as simple and felicitous and earnest a word as was ever spoken.”

The day after the ceremony, Lincoln received a message from Everett: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Over time, the Gettysburg Address would become one of the most celebrated speeches delivered by an American statesman.


References; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 76; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 343; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9793-805, 9827, 9849-71, 9882-906; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 830-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 373-74; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 583; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 435; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 262; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

Lincoln Travels to Gettysburg

November 18, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln boarded a special train to attend the dedication of the new Gettysburg National Cemetery.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit:

By the morning of the 18th, Lincoln had contracted varioloid, or a mild smallpox, and his son Tad was very ill. But the president refused to cancel his trip. First Lady Mary Lincoln, having lost two young sons already, became hysterical at the prospect of losing a third while her husband was away.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had scheduled a special train to take Lincoln to the ceremony and bring him back to Washington on the day of the event, but Lincoln told him, “I do not like this arrangement. I do not wish to so go that by the slightest accident we fail entirely; and, at the best, the whole to be a mere breathless running of the gauntlet. But any way.”

Stanton instead booked a special four-car train to leave Washington at noon on the 18th, the day before the ceremony. Lincoln left with his three most conservative cabinet members–Secretary of State William H. Seward, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and Interior Secretary John P. Usher. Other travelers included Lincoln’s secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln’s black manservant William Johnson, Lincoln’s friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, and Benjamin B. French, who had written a hymn for the event. Military officers, foreign dignitaries, newspaper correspondents, the Marine Band, and the Invalid Corps also joined the presidential party.

The train stopped at Baltimore, where it had to be pulled by horses from Camden Station to Bolton Station. It then continued to Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, where Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin boarded. During a brief stop at Hanover, Lincoln posed for a photo by Mathew Brady and addressed a gathering crowd:

“Well, you had the rebels here last summer. Did you fight them any? I trust when the enemy was here, the citizens of Hanover were loyal to our country and the stars and stripes. If you are not all true patriots in support of the union, you should be.”

As the train was about to leave, Lincoln said, “Well, you have seen me, and, according to general experience, you have seen less than you expected to see.” The train reached Gettysburg around 6 p.m., where it was greeted by event organizer and local attorney David Wills, and keynote speaker Edward Everett. They handed Lincoln an encouraging telegram from Stanton: “Mrs. Lincoln informed me that your son is better this evening.” Lincoln went with them to Wills’s mansion, where they would be spending the night.

The town was crowded with visitors fueled by patriotic enthusiasm. Word quickly spread that Lincoln and other Washington luminaries were in town, and people soon gathered to serenade the president, joined by the 5th New York Artillery Band. When they called on Lincoln to give a speech, he came out and said:

“I appear before you, fellow-citizens, merely to thank you for this compliment. The inference is a very fair one that you would hear me for a little while at least, were I to commence to make a speech. I do not appear before you for the purpose of doing so, and for several substantial reasons. The most substantial of these is that I have no speech to make. In my position it is somewhat important that I should not say any foolish things.”

A man shouted, “If you can help it!” Lincoln continued, “It very often happens that the only way to help it is to say nothing at all. Believing that is my present condition this evening, I must beg of you to excuse me from addressing you further.”

The group then moved on to Seward, who came out and obliged them with a speech. Seward lauded the United States as “the richest, the broadest, the most beautiful, the most magnificent, and capable of a great destiny, that has ever been given to any part of the human race.”

Some time that night, Lincoln finished writing the address he would deliver the next day.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 342-43; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9827-49; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 830; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 373; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 434-35

The Siege of Knoxville Begins

November 17, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet expected to renew the fight at Campbell’s Station, but Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federals had fallen back to Knoxville.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit:

As the day began, Longstreet realized he only faced Federal cavalry, as the rest of Burnside’s 5,000-man detachment from Loudon had withdrawn. Longstreet wrote General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga, that there had been a “severe skirmish and artillery duel” the previous day, and added, “The enemy seems to have gone into Knoxville. We have not been able to bring him to battle yet.”

The Federal cavalry, consisting of about 700 troopers under Brigadier General William P. Sanders, fought a delaying action, falling back each time the Confederates began flanking them. The Federals made their last stand just outside Knoxville, along the edge of a deep ravine that would delay the Confederate pursuit. Meanwhile, Burnside’s men inside Knoxville strengthened their defenses. Sanders agreed to try holding out against Longstreet as long as possible, or until the defenses were completed.

To the southwest, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal reinforcements arrived at Bridgeport, poised to reinforce the Federals in Chattanooga. Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, wrote Burnside:

“I have not heard from you since the 14th. Sherman’s forces commenced their movement from Bridgeport, threatening the enemy’s left flank. This alone may turn Longstreet back, and if it does not, the attack will be prosecuted until we reach the roads over which all their supplies have to pass, while you hold East Tennessee.”

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit:

Burnside reported how he had delayed Longstreet’s advance and was now behind fortifications in Knoxville. Grant wrote, “So far you are doing exactly what appears to me right. I think our movements here must cause Longstreet’s recall within a day or two, if he is not successful before that time.” Burnside replied, “Shall hold this position to the last.”

Meanwhile, Sanders’s troopers continued holding the Confederates off about a mile from Fort Loudon, in the northwest section of forts built by Confederates to defend Knoxville before the Federals took over. Sanders held off 15,000 Confederates for several hours and was mortally wounded. His men successfully allowed Burnside to finish his defenses, and Fort Loudon was later renamed Fort Sanders in honor of the fallen cavalry commander.

As Burnside’s Federals positioned themselves behind strong fortifications, Longstreet’s Confederates began surrounding them. Grant heard nothing from Burnside for several days, and Brigadier General Orlando Willcox, commanding Federals at Cumberland Gap, could not contact him either. Grant wired Willcox and asked him to break Longstreet’s siege.

Willcox replied, “I will try it, and endeavor to subsist on the country. It would be a desperate attempt, as the roads are bad and the country pretty much fed out along the route.” Addressing rumors that Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry intended to invade Kentucky, Willcox wrote, “Cumberland River is up, and if we have more rain there is no danger of Wheeler getting into Kentucky.”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote Grant, “The President feels very anxious that some immediate movement should be made for his (Burnside’s) relief,” especially if rumors were true that Longstreet’s force was “larger than was supposed.”

Skirmishing occurred at various points along the siege line over the next week. Longstreet began preparing to launch a general assault on Fort Sanders, but then he received a message from Bragg stating that “nearly 11,000 reinforcements are now moving to your assistance.” Bragg gave Longstreet the option to either attack now or wait for the reinforcements to arrive. Longstreet opted to wait.


References; 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. 839; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 372-74; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 109, 112; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 436; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 108-09, 420-21; Williams, Frederick D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 278