Tag Archives: Braxton Bragg

North Carolina: Confederates Reclaim Plymouth

April 20, 1864 – Confederate army and navy forces regained a town that enabled them to open the vital Roanoke River to commerce on the North Carolina coast.

By dawn, the C.S.S. Albemarle had cleared the Roanoke River of Federal gunboats, enabling Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke’s Confederate infantry to launch an all-out assault on the Federal fortifications at Plymouth. Hoke’s troops had spent the 19th getting into assault positions, with one of his brigades poised to attack Fort Williams from the east. Brigadier General Henry W. Wessells, commanding the Federal forces, reported that–

“… the enemy was very active, moving in different directions, withdrawing most of his force from the vicinity of Fort Gray, and apparently making a serious demonstration on my right. This state of things continued until dark, when the enemy in strong force succeeded in effecting the crossing of Coneby Creek below the town, and massed his column on my left. This disaster was unexplained, and placed me in a most critical position.”

Gen R.F. Hoke | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Hoke planned for his troops to demonstrate against the Federal right while attacking the Federal left. Wessells spent the night shifting troops to prepare for attacks from either direction, even though he was outnumbered by more than two-to-one. When the Confederates charged on the left and pushed the forward Federal line back, Wessells asked to confer with Hoke.

Wessells wrote that Hoke demanded unconditional surrender, and, “In failure of this, indiscriminate slaughter was intimated.” Despite Hoke’s efforts to be “courteous and soldierlike,” Wessells refused the demand. He reported:

“I was now completely enveloped on every side, Fort Williams, an inclosed work in the center of the line, being my only hope. This was well understood by the enemy, and in less than an hour a cannonade of shot and shell was opened upon it from four different directions. This terrible fire had to be endured without reply, as no man could live at the guns…

“This condition of affairs could not be long endured without a reckless sacrifice of life; no relief could be expected, and in compliance with the earnest desire of every officer I consented to hoist a white flag, and at 10 a.m. of April 20 I had the mortification of surrendering my post to the enemy with all it contained.”

The retaking of Plymouth was the greatest Confederate joint army-navy victory of the war. It was also the Confederates’ greatest victory in North Carolina after a series of defeats that dated all the way back to February 1862. The Federal blockade of the Roanoke River was now broken, allowing the Confederates to receive much-needed supplies from this key waterway.

Hoke received the official thanks of the Confederate Congress and a promotion to major-general. His aide-de-camp reported, “The prisoners will number about 2,500, 300 or 400 negroes, 30 pieces of ordnance, complete garrison outfit, 100,000 pounds of meat, 1,000 barrels of flour, and other provisions… Our loss about 300 in all.”

Major General John J. Peck, commanding the Federal District of North Carolina, frantically notified his superior, Major General Benjamin F. Butler, “The ram (Albemarle) will probably come down to Roanoke Island, Washington, and New Bern. Unless we are immediately and heavily reinforced, both by the army and navy, North Carolina is inevitably lost.” As Peck feared, the Confederates planned to target New Bern next.

Many of the North Carolina Unionists, perhaps recalling that Major General George Pickett had executed their comrades, fled the ranks before the Confederates took over the works. Some black troops also fled to avoid being sent into slavery. Northern newspapers quickly published eyewitness accounts of Confederate troops murdering surrendered black soldiers in cold blood. Sergeant Samuel Johnson of the 2nd U.S. Colored Cavalry later recalled:

“When I found out that the city was being surrendered, I pulled off my uniform and found a suit of citizen’s clothes, which I put on, and when captured I was supposed and believed by the rebels to be a citizen. After being captured I was kept at Plymouth for some two weeks and was employed in endeavoring to raise the sunken vessels of the Union fleet…”

“Upon the capture of Plymouth by the rebel forces all the negroes found in blue uniform, or with any outward marks of a Union soldier upon him, was killed. I saw some taken into the woods and hung. Others I saw stripped of all their clothing and stood upon the bank of the river with their faces riverwards and there they were shot. Still others were killed by having their brains beaten out by the butt end of the muskets in the hands of the rebels. All were not killed the day of the capture. Those that were not were placed in a room with their officers, they (the officers) having previously been dragged through the town with ropes around their necks, where they were kept confined until the following morning when the remainder of the black soldiers were killed.”

Confederate officials denied the accusations, and the southern press backed them. An editorial in the Richmond Daily Examiner declared, “General Hoke, judging from the large number of his prisoners, does not seem to have made such thorough work as that by which Forrest has so shocked the tender souls, and frozen the warm blood of the Yankees.”

Confederate Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg wrote North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance that President Jefferson Davis–

“… directs that the negroes captured by our forces be turned over to you for the present, and he requests of you that if upon investigation you ascertain that any of them belong to citizens of North Carolina you will cause them to be restored to their respective owners. If any are owned in other States you will please communicate to me their number and the names and places of residence of their owners, and have them retained in strict custody until the President’s views in reference to such may be conveyed to you.”

“To avoid as far as possible all complications with the military authorities of the United States in regard to the disposition which will be made of this class of (black) prisoners, the President respectfully requests Your Excellency to take the necessary steps to have the matter of such disposition kept out of the newspapers of the State, and in every available way to shun its obtaining any publicity as far as consistent with the proposed restoration.”

Thus, the official Confederate policy would be to send all captured black troops into slavery, regardless of whether they had been free before joining the Federal army, and the press would not report on the matter.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95-96; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 394; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2444-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 422; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 487; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 365; 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. 793; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 184; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 5

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The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid Takes a Sinister Turn

March 2, 1864 – Confederates continued pursuing the Federal raiders led by Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, uncovering controversial documentation in the process.

Two Federal forces had unsuccessfully tried to raid Richmond. The main force under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick rode through Kent Court House on the way to joining Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federals at Fort Monroe, on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Dahlgren’s 500-man detachment split in two, with Dahlgren leading about 100 men southeast to rejoin Kilpatrick.

Col Ulric Dahlgren | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Fitzhugh Lee, commanding Confederate cavalry in the area, soon learned of Dahlgren’s presence. His Confederates fired on Dahlgren’s men as they crossed the Mattaponi River, but the Federals held them off long enough to get across. The Confederate pursuers used an alternate road to get in front of Dahlgren’s column as it approached Mantapike Hill, between King and Queen County and King William County.

The Confederates waited in ambush as the Federals approached on the night of the 2nd. Dahlgren saw them in the woods and yelled, “Surrender you damned rebels, or we will charge you!” The Confederates instead demanded Dahlgren’s surrender. Dahlgren drew his revolver but it misfired. The Confederates opened fire, and a Federal trooper recalled, “This stampeded us for about 100 yards, every horse in our column turning to the rear.” Another wrote:

“The next instant a heavy volley was poured in upon us. The flash of the pieces afforded us a momentary glimpse of their position stretching parallel with the road about 15 paces from us. Every tree was occupied, and the bushes poured forth a sheet of fire. A bullet grazing my leg and probably struck my horse somewhere in the neck, caused him to make a violent swing sideways.”

Dahlgren was shot five times and killed. The Federals left him behind as they rode off, and the Confederates eventually rounded up about 100 of his men. Most of the survivors from Dahlgren’s force met up with Kilpatrick that night, while some found refuge on the U.S.S. Morse, near Brick House Farm on the York River.

William Littlepage, a 13-year-old boy accompanying the Confederates, searched Dahlgren’s body and found a bundle of papers in his coat pocket. He turned them over to the troopers, who read them the next morning. The three documents included the speech that Dahlgren had planned to give to his men upon entering Richmond, a list of instructions, and a memorandum book.

The instructions included the Federals’ plan to break some 15,000 Federal prisoners of war out of Belle Island and Libby Prison. They also directed the men to disguise themselves in Confederate uniforms, gather “combustible material,” and burn Richmond. And if President Jefferson Davis was found, he must be “killed on the spot.” Dahlgren wrote, “The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff Davis and cabinet killed.”

Some historians alleged that the papers had been forged by Confederates, but a handwriting expert verified Dahlgren’s writing a century later. Several prisoners were captured in Confederate uniform carrying turpentine and other material needed to set fires. This made them saboteurs under Articles of War, subject to execution.

The discovery of these incriminating papers and the capture of Federals verifying their authenticity put a sinister twist on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid. Fitz Lee delivered the papers to Davis at Richmond, who shared them with Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. Davis tried downplaying the issue, showing the secretary the order to kill him and his cabinet and saying, “That means you, Mr. Benjamin.” Davis asked Fitz to file the papers away. But General Braxton Bragg, Davis’s military advisor, recommended to Secretary of War James A. Seddon:

“It has occurred to me that the papers just captured from the enemy are of such an extraordinary and diabolical character that some more formal method should be adopted of giving them to the public than simply sending them to the press. My own conviction is for an execution of the prisoners and a publication as justification; but in any event the publication should go forth with official sanction from the highest authority, calling the attention of our people and the civilized world to the fiendish and atrocious conduct of our enemies.”

Chief of Ordnance Josiah Gorgas agreed with Bragg. But Seddon, along with Davis and General Robert E. Lee, were reluctant to take punitive action against the prisoners. Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper had the documents photographed and sent to the Richmond newspapers; their publication sent waves of shock, panic, and outrage throughout the South. Editors alleged that the plot went all the way up the chain of command to President Abraham Lincoln himself. An article in the Richmond Inquirer declared:

“Should our army again go into the enemy’s country, will not these papers relieve them from their restraints of a chivalry that would be proper with a civilized army, but which only brings upon them the contempt of our savage foe? Decidedly, we think that these Dahlgren papers will destroy, during the rest of the war, all rosewater chivalry, and that the Confederate armies will make war afar and upon the rules selected by the enemy.”

The Richmond Whig asked:

“Are these (Dahlgren’s) men warriors? Are they soldiers, taken in the performance of duties recognized as legitimate by the loosest construction in the code of civilized warfare? Or are they assassins, barbarians, thugs who have forfeited (and expect to lose) their lives? Are they not barbarians redolent with more hellish purposes than were the Goth, the Hun or the Saracen?”

The Richmond Daily Examiner recommended:

“Our soldiers should in every instance where they capture officers engaged in raids characterized by such acts of incendiarism and wanton devastation and plunder, as this last raid has been, hang them immediately. If they are handed over as prisoners of war, they at once come under the laws of regular warfare and are subject to exchange… therefore we hope that our soldiers will take the law in their own hands… by hanging those they capture.”

Dahlgren’s body was brought to Richmond and buried in a shallow grave after being examined by Davis. An editor wrote:

“And they came and the Almighty blessed them not, and Dahlgren is dead and gone to answer for his crimes and several hundred of his partners in the plot concocted so deliberately are now our prisoners. They every one richly merit death…”

The controversy would continue.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20051; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-82; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10424; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 203; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 913, 915; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 405; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6593; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 471; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 417; 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), Q164

Bragg Leaves the Army of Tennessee

December 2, 1863 – General Braxton Bragg turned the Confederate Army of Tennessee over to Lieutenant General William Hardee, and President Jefferson Davis began looking for a permanent army commander.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the last day of November, Bragg’s request to be removed from command had been granted. Bragg notified his superiors that he would relinquish command on December 2 at Dalton, Georgia. In the meantime, he submitted “a plain, unvarnished report of the operations at Chattanooga, resulting in my shameful discomfiture” via special messenger. The report included a personal letter to his friend, President Davis, who had supported him:

“The disaster admits of no palliation, and is justly disparaging to me as a commander. I trust, however, you may find upon full investigation that the fault is not entirely mine… I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me…”

Bragg charged that Major General John C. Breckinridge had been drunk throughout the three days of battle at Chattanooga and called him “totally unfit for any duty” during the withdrawal. Bragg alleged that Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham was “equally dangerous.” This further demonstrated that Bragg’s demise was at least partly due to his inability to accept responsibility for mistakes and to instead blame his subordinates.

In an emotional ceremony, Bragg passed command to Hardee on the 2nd. Although most of the officers and men in the army despised Bragg and celebrated his departure, he issued a farewell address to them: “The announcement of this separation is made with unfeigned regret. The associations of more than two years, which bind together a commander and his trusted troops, cannot be severed without deep emotion.”

Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hardee, who had no desire for army command, only agreed to replace Bragg temporarily. He stated that while he appreciated “this expression of (Davis’s) confidence… feeling my inability to serve the country successfully in this new sphere of duty, I respectfully decline the command if designed to be permanent.” Hardee announced to his new army:

“The overwhelming numbers of the enemy forced us back from Missionary Ridge, but the army is still intact and in good heart… Only the weak and timid need to be cheered by constant success. Let the past take care of itself; we can and must secure the future.”

Before leaving, Bragg wrote a second letter to Davis, in which he still called himself “General, Commanding” at “Headquarters Army of Tennessee.” Bragg rhetorically asked, “What, then, shall be our policy?” He then boldly offered unsolicited military advice:

“The enemy has concentrated all his available means in front of this army, and by sheer force of numbers has triumphed over our gallant little band… Let us concentrate all our available men, unite them with this gallant little army, still full of zeal and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige, and with our greatest and best leader at the head, yourself, if practicable, march the whole upon the enemy and crush him in his power and glory…”

Bragg concluded, “I believe it practicable, and trust that I may be allowed to participate in the struggle which may restore the character, the prestige, and the country we have just lost.” Bragg then left the army and headed to Richmond to await further orders. Despite Bragg’s questionable record as military commander, Davis would soon find a new job for him in the administration.

Meanwhile, since Hardee made it clear that he would only lead the Army of Tennessee on an interim basis, Davis had to hurry to find a permanent commander. The list of generals to choose from was very short, even if he did not rule out those he personally disliked. The day after Hardee took over, Davis wrote General Robert E. Lee in northern Virginia. He explained the situation and asked, “Could you consistently go to Dalton, as heretofore explained?”

Davis had asked Lee to head the Army of Tennessee in September, and Lee demurred. Now Lee did so again, not wanting to leave his Army of Northern Virginia. He answered, “I can if desired, but of the expediency of the measure you can judge better than I can. Unless it is intended that I should take permanent command, I can see no good that will result, even if in that event any could be accomplished. I also fear that I would not receive cordial co-operation.”

Lee explained that if he left, he would have to turn his army over to Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, who was “too feeble to undergo the fatigue and labor incident to the position.” Lee then warned Davis that the Federals sought to invade Georgia “and get possession of our depots of provisions and important manufactories.” He proposed giving General P.G.T. Beauregard (currently heading the Charleston defenses) command of the army and reinforcing it with troops from Mississippi, Mobile, and Charleston. Lee added:

“I think that every effort should be made to concentrate as large a force as possible, under the best commander, to insure the discomfiture of (Ulysses S.) Grant’s army. To do this and gain the great advantage that would accrue from it, the safety of points practically less important than those endangered by his army must be hazarded. Upon the defence of the country threatened by General Grant depends the safety of the points now held by us on the Atlantic, and they are in as great danger from his successful advance as by the attacks to which they are at present directly subjected.”

However, Davis loathed Beauregard and would not consider giving him command of the Army of Tennessee. Davis also would not consider the highest-ranking general in the Confederacy, Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, because he had performed administrative duties throughout the war and was too old for field command. This left just one viable option, and to Davis’s dismay, it was someone who had been hostile toward him almost since the war began.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 349-50; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 868-69, 878; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 380; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6544-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-43

The Battle of Fort Sanders

November 29, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s tentative Confederate siege of Knoxville climaxed with an assault on the nearly invulnerable Federal defenses. Continue reading

The Battle of Chattanooga: Aftermath

November 26, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal victory at Chattanooga opened Georgia to invasion and led to a command change in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this date, General Braxton Bragg’s two-month siege of Chattanooga had ended in defeat. As his Confederates fell back into northern Georgia, he reported:

“No satisfactory excuse can possibly be given for the shameful conduct of the troops… in allowing their line to be penetrated. The position was one which ought to have been held by a line of skirmishers against any assaulting column.”

But Bragg took no responsibility for erroneously detaching troops to Knoxville, issuing vague orders, and failing to anticipate the Federals’ intentions until it was too late. His retreating Confederates continued moving southeast on the 26th, past Chickamauga Station to Ringgold, 15 miles down the railroad connecting Chattanooga and the vital industrial city of Atlanta.

As Bragg continued retreating toward Dalton, he ordered Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division to block the Federals at Ringgold “at all hazards.” He then turned to his familiar pattern of blaming others by removing one of his two corps commanders, Major General John C. Breckinridge, from command. Bragg and Breckinridge had long been enemies, and Bragg alleged that Breckinridge had gotten so drunk after the battle that a division commander had to care for him during the retreat.

Meanwhile, Grant’s pursuit continued, with Major General Philip Sheridan’s division of Major General George H. Thomas’s army in the lead. Major General William T. Sherman’s forces advanced on Ringgold to cut supply lines and drive out any remaining Confederates, and Major General Joseph Hooker’s Federals also pushed toward Ringgold through Rossville Gap.

Hooker’s lead division under Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus approached Ringgold at 8 a.m. on the 27th. By that time, Cleburne’s 4,000 Confederates had entrenched themselves on Taylor’s Ridge south of town. The numerically superior Federals drove in enemy skirmishers and then tried moving around Cleburne’s right (north) flank. When that failed, Osterhaus attacked the Confederate left, but Cleburne repelled that effort as well.

Hooker brought up Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division, which made little progress until Geary committed Colonel David Ireland’s brigade against the enemy left which, according to Geary, forced the Confederates “to recoil in the zenith of (Ireland’s) audacious charge…” The Federals then brought up several guns and began pounding Cleburne’s left. The Confederate line finally wavered, and Lieutenant General William Hardee directed Cleburne to withdraw around 1 p.m.

Cleburne lost 221 men while Hooker lost 442; the Confederates also took over 100 prisoners and three stands of colors. As they fell back to rejoin Bragg’s main army, Grant halted the pursuit. Federal supplies were running low, and Grant soon turned his attention to breaking Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate siege of Knoxville in eastern Tennessee.

Bragg fell back behind Rocky Face Ridge the next day and arrived at Dalton, where he consolidated his scattered army. The troops cheered the arrival of Cleburne’s men after holding the Federals off at Ringgold. As President Jefferson Davis urged Bragg to concentrate and counterattack as soon as possible, Bragg reported:

“We hope to maintain this position, (but) should the enemy press on promptly we may have to cross the Oostenaula (River, 15 miles south). My first estimate of our disaster was not too large, and time only can restore order and morale. All possible aid should be pushed on to Resaca. I deem it due to the cause and to myself to ask for relief from command and an investigation into the causes of the defeat.”

Adjutant General Samuel Cooper responded on the 30th:

“Your dispatches of yesterday received. Your request to be relieved has been submitted to the President, who, upon your representation, directs me to notify you that you are relieved from command, which you will transfer to Lieutenant-General Hardee, the officer next in rank and now present for duty.”

Bragg immediately prepared to relinquish command of the army he had led since June 1862. During that time, he had taken the fight to the Federals by invading Kentucky, but his retreat after Perryville ended his invasion. He then lost Middle Tennessee by retreating after Stones River and Tullahoma. Bragg rebounded after giving up Chattanooga by routing the Federals at Chickamauga, but his siege of Chattanooga failed, and now his Army of Tennessee had been ousted from its home state.

For the Federals, Grant immediately looked to drive Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee. After that, he would begin planning a move into the southern heartland which included a drive on Atlanta.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 140-42; 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. 345-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 858, 860-61, 867; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 378-80; 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. 439-41; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 743-44; 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. 680-81; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 498-99

The Battle of Chattanooga: Missionary Ridge

November 25, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals finally broke the siege of Chattanooga and nearly broke General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee in the process.

By this time, the three Federal armies had made progress in pushing the Confederates away from Chattanooga:

  • Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee held a spur across a ravine from Tunnel Hill, north of Chattanooga.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland held Orchard Knob in the center.
  • Major General Joseph Hooker’s forces from the Army of the Potomac held Lookout Mountain southwest of Chattanooga.

Thomas’s Federals, unaware of Hooker’s victory the night before, cheered when they saw the U.S. flag waving atop Lookout Mountain the next morning. Grant’s plan for this day’s action included:

  • Sherman seizing Tunnel Hill and driving the Confederates off Missionary Ridge.
  • Thomas advancing after Sherman seized his objective.
  • Hooker advancing toward Rossville Gap to cut off the Confederate line of retreat.

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

Sherman’s 16,000 Federals advanced at dawn and arrived in front of Tunnel Hill around 11 a.m. Bragg’s best division, Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s 4,000 men, defended the hill, with support from divisions under Major General Carter L. Stevenson and Brigadier General States Rights Gist. The small, narrow hill allowed for an easy defense against a superior attack force. Cleburne held the Federals off for four hours and earned the nickname “Stonewall Jackson of the West” for this action.

To the southwest, Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederate corps held Hooker off as the Federals had to stop and repair the bridge leading to Rossville Gap. When the bridge was finally repaired around 3 p.m., the Federals advanced in force and Breckinridge slowly fell back in the face of superior numbers. Grant had expected Sherman to destroy the Confederate right, but instead Hooker was threatening to crumble the Confederate left.

Meanwhile, Sherman signaled Grant’s headquarters several times asking him to send Thomas into action. With Sherman faltering and Hooker slowing down, Grant finally assented. In Thomas’s front, Bragg’s Confederates manned three lines of rifle pits ascending Missionary Ridge. Grant, who had little faith in Thomas’s Federals based on their combat history, ordered them to simply advance from Orchard Knob and capture the first line at the foot of the ridge.

Some 23,000 Federals advanced across the open plain along a two-mile front. The Confederates fired one volley and fell back to the second line. As the Federals entered the first line, they were in danger of being decimated by rifle and artillery fire from the two lines above them. Without orders, the divisions of Major General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood led a general charge up the mountain. Grant, watching from headquarters, asked, “Thomas, who ordered those men up the ridge?” Thomas replied, “I don’t know, I did not.” Grant did not abort the unauthorized assault, hopeful for success.

The Federal charge | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Confederates abandoned the second line, with many hit by friendly fire from their comrades in the line above. The Federals then continued their charge up to the third line, with some chanting, “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” Confederate artillerists could not depress their guns low enough to fire on the attackers; some desperately lit fuses in shells and rolled them down the mountain. The Federals swept through the third line and raced to the top of Missionary Ridge, nearly capturing both Breckinridge and Bragg in the process.

Gen P.R. Cleburne | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

While Cleburne’s men celebrated repelling Sherman, Lieutenant General William Hardee, Cleburne’s superior, informed him that the center had collapsed, and his Confederates were about to be isolated. Cleburne quickly formed a rear guard to prevent the Confederate retreat from becoming a rout. Bragg’s army retreated down the reverse slope of Missionary Ridge, and the Federal pursuit, led by Sheridan’s division, ended at nightfall. Hooker soon joined the rest of the Federals on Missionary Ridge.

Three days of fighting ended in a resounding Federal victory that ended the siege of Chattanooga. During that time, the Federals sustained 5,824 casualties (753 killed, 4,722 wounded and 349 missing). Grant telegraphed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“Although the battle lasted from nearly dawn until dark this evening I believe I am not premature in announcing a complete victory over Bragg. Lookout mountain-top, all the rifle pits in Chattanooga Valley, and Missionary Ridge entire, have been carried, and are now held by us. I have no idea of finding Bragg here tomorrow.”

The Confederates lost 6,667 men (361 killed, 2,160 wounded and 4,146 missing, mostly captured). They also lost 41 guns. Bragg regretfully reported, “A panic which I had never before witnessed seemed to have seized upon officers and men, and each seemed to be struggling for his personal safety regardless of his duty or his character.”

The Confederates crossed Chickamauga Creek, with Cleburne reporting:

“By 9 p.m., everything was across, except the dead and a few stragglers linger here and there under the shadow of the trees for the purpose of being captured: faint-hearted patriots succumbing to the hardships of the war and the imagined hopelessness of the hour.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 138-42; 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. 344-45; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 857-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 376-77; 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. 437-38; 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. 677-80; 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

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