Tag Archives: Chattanooga Campaign

From Aden Cavins, 97th Indiana

Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Aden Cavins of the 97th Indiana Volunteer Infantry to his wife.

Scottsboro, Ala.

Dec. 30, 1863

Indiana State Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

MY DEAR TILLA:

All your letters express dread of harm to me in the battles around Chattanooga. You no doubt before this time have heard that I am still a breathing, moving corporal being.

We left Stevenson at the time I wrote you. We arrived here on the Memphis and Charleston railroad, a distance of twenty-seven miles over the worst roads for a level country I ever saw.

The weather grew warmer soon after I wrote you and it rained almost incessantly for four days. Our wagons only arrived here last evening, nearly worn out. We have our tents put up now and have dried ourselves and feel quite comfortable. It is expected that we will remain here for two weeks and then move farther along the road so as to be able to get forage for our teams…

A majority of the southern people whose homes are now within the federal lines are sick of the war and want peace on any terms. Texas and Louisiana have already deserted their confederates and their soldiers have made their way to their homes. Thousands of others are only waiting an opportunity to do the same thing. Northern Alabama is full of deserters from the rebel army. It is said that there are at least five hundred in this country. But when you get a man from south of our lines, he speaks as hopefully as Jeff Davis, and says that they would rather die than have any left to witness their subjugation.

I, a few months ago, spoke to those who are now leaving them at every opportunity. But when they were shut out from their homes, their friends, and the dear ones that aforetime smiled happily around their firesides, they were subdued–not by federal bayonets or the fierce rattle of our dreadful musketry, but by sentiments deeply established in the constitution of man: love of home, wife, father, mother or children. There is a point beyond which few can go. One may endure any physical hardship, to gratify a feeling, a prejudice or a whim, or suffer death rather than a real or supposed dishonor. But most men are subdued when the ties of early life are sundered and all the joyous memories of “home, sweet home” are trampled under foot.

When, therefore, the rebels are driven from their homes and their places become occupied by our soldiers; when they are separated from their families by long and tedious days, they will give up the contest. However, they are now driven into so few of their pretended states that want may soon begin to wear on them. But misguided people will never consult their best interests until disasters, dreadful and ruinous, will overtake them.

I believe during the next summer and fall campaign most of their country will be overrun, and after that nothing but lawless bands of guerrillas will prevent the soldiers from returning home. Texas will be mostly conquered this winter; Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi are almost subjugated; their once fair fields are nothing but wastes–fences and barns and houses destroyed and all their substance and stock destroyed. Alabama and Georgia will have to yield in the next movement.

The rebels have a very large army and will have months to recruit it and gather up their scattered forces. What jealousies and discords may happen among them no one can guess, but unless something supervenes to thwart the intentions of the rebel leaders, there will be at least one more year of fierce savage war, and then I think the struggle will be over. I hope that dissensions, brawls and discord may creep into their ranks, so as to hurry up the time when all can join those they love so well and whose absence they so much regret. It will most truly be a day of rejoicing when the war-worn soldier returns to the side of his dear ones, where he can view them affectionately by day and rest sweetly with them by night.

I am glad Charley is reading Plutarch’s Lives. There is so much of the noble, generous and heroic acts in the narratives that it cannot fail making a lasting impression on his mind. You must see that he pronounces the proper names correctly. See Classical Dictionary.

My love to all. Write often.

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Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Press, 1988), p. 184-86

From Frank Phelps, 10th Wisconsin

Letter from Sergeant Frank Phelps of the 10th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

Camp at Chattanooga, Tenn.

December 2, 1863

Wisconsin State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

MY DEAR FRIENDS:

Again has the army of the Cumberland with Hooker’s and Grant’s brave boys routed and scattered Bragg’s Army while yet exulting over their dear bought victory, if you call it that, of Chickamauga. You have ere this seen detailed accounts of the fight, but yet it may be interesting to know what I saw and did in the fight though the latter part was very small.

I will commence away back to the first signs we got of an advance movement. On the 19th of last month we had orders for each man to have 100 rounds of ammunition. The usual amount we have to carry is only 40 rounds, so we knew something was up. The next day, we had orders to go on picket with two days’ rations. Well, we went out, when it commenced to rain and rained almost every hour we were out.

While we were on the lines, we were not very far apart, only a little creek between us. The rebs were very friendly, coming down on the bank to trade papers, canteens or anything they could get. I had a New York Tribune, which I exchanged for an Augusta paper. The next day I exchanged a Wis. State Journal for the Richmond News. They wanted to get playing cards the most. One fellow offered me Greenbacks or gold if I would get him some. He said they had to pay $12 per pack for them and they were good for nothing.

We were on two days, and at the station where we were, 27 rebels deserted and came over. We were relieved on the morning of the 22nd. That afternoon we received orders to be ready to move at 6 a.m. on the 23rd. We got ready and then the order was countermanded. We were not to leave camp, but to hold ourselves ready to move at a moment’s notice. At noon, we were ordered to move out into the rifle pits. The position of our brigade and division is on the extreme right, and we expected that we were going to make for Lookout Mountain, or that there would be a general advance. At one o’clock, our heavy guns from Fort Wood and all along the lines opened on the enemy.

Soon we heard skirmishing on the left. Then we understood the movement. After some heavy firing, our forces drove the rebels from their rifle pits. When we stopped for the night, we were not allowed to leave the works as the rebels might make a movement on our right. During the night, we were moved up to support a battery of 20-pound Parrotts. Just before daylight, we were ordered to leave half of the regiment there (which was only 30 men) and take the rest down to Louis battery. The rest of the brigade had moved out to the front.

The next morning we expected to have a fight, but it was still all along the lines. At 10 o’clock, there was some firing away off in Lookout Valley where Hooker had his camps. Pretty soon the firing became more general and the first thing we saw was our men charging up Lookout Mountain. It commenced to rain about noon and it was so foggy we could not see very well. At dark, we held the mountain. Our brigade had driven the rebels on this side and joined Hooker. We expected to go out and join the brigade during the night, but they could get no horses for the battery, so we had to stay.

The next morning was clear, but awful cold. The rebs had left Lookout Mountain and our forces had gone over through the valley toward Missionary Ridge. Hooker had got to Rossville, which place we made our stand on Monday. Left here is a large gap or pass between the two ridges. From this place Hooker could come up in the rear of the rebels on Mission Ridge. Sherman with Grant’s Western boys had gone up the river to where Chickamauga Creek empties into the river and crossed over, bagging about 100 rebs that were making rafts to float down the river to break our pontoon bridges. Here we took possession of a large knob on the north end of Mission Ridge, while Maj. Gen. Howard with the 11th Corps opened communications with Sherman from this way…

Soon I could see our line advance. Our brigade held the right, forward they went, but the hill was steep and high and the rebels were packed in their rifle pits. Our men come up within range when they fire and charge up with the bayonet. The rebels either retreat or surrender. After charging the rebels out of five lines of rifle pits, we reach the top of the hill and, almost at the same time, the batteries of the rebels stop firing. They have been firing on Sherman and Thomas as fast as guns could be worked. A cheer reaches us, and on the double quick do our men face towards Sherman and go to his relief.

The rebel center is broken. We have got all of their heavy guns and hold possession of all the ridge except where the railroad goes through. There the rebels have massed the remainder of their army. From that point they can rake the whole ridge with grape and canister. We can see 20 different guns open almost at the same instant. Guns that had been firing towards Sherman all the forenoon are now firing in the opposite direction. The roar of musketry and artillery is heavier than before; a huge column of smoke rises away over to our right. The rebels are burning their stores. Hooker is working there. Night comes on and the rebels hold their position on Tunnel Hill. Sherman had been repulsed three times, but the fourth time he was victorious and the rebels had to leave.

That night, all was still. Bragg’s Army had been defeated and driven from every position. Chickamauga had been avenged. That night our forces bivouacked in the rebel camp. The next morning our forces were in pursuit of the retreating rebels. At Ringold, Bragg tried to make another stand. He had chosen a good position, but our column, which went on our old road from Bridgeport, over the mountain to Trenton, came up in his rear, and joined onto Hooker. He was soon driven from there. Here our army had to stop on account of supplies. During the night our brigade started back and reached here the next afternoon. Bragg lost all of his artillery and about 15,000 prisoners. This is the first fight down in this section of the country that the old 10th was not in the front ranks. Our brigade was there and we would have been if we had officers, but one regiment had to be left back, and we were that lucky regiment…

Yours as ever,

FRANK W. PHELPS

—–

Source:

Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 180-83

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

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: Histmag.org

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: Wikimedia.org

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.

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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; 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: Wikispaces.org

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.

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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. 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

Chattanooga: Bragg Weakens His Army

November 1, 1863 – Just as the “cracker line” began resupplying the hungry Federal forces besieged in Chattanooga, General Braxton Bragg weakened his Confederate army by sending part of it to eastern Tennessee.

As November began, Federal supplies were being shipped from Bridgeport, Alabama, to Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee River, and then brought overland into Chattanooga via Moccasin Point. Federal troops began receiving full rations, including hardtack (i.e., “crackers”) for the first time in nearly a month. This rendered Bragg’s siege virtually useless. President Abraham Lincoln wrote Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home in Auburn, New York, that messages “from Chattanooga show all quiet and doing well.”

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federals in Chattanooga, now began looking to break out of the city. The Army of the Cumberland had been reinforced by XI and XII corps from the Army of the Potomac, and several divisions from Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee were on their way to reinforce as well.

Sherman’s Federals were near Tuscumbia, Alabama, as the month began. They had been repairing the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, their principal supply source, as they went. But this changed when Sherman received orders from Grant: “Drop all work on Memphis & Charleston Railroad, cross the Tennessee (River), and hurry eastward with all possible dispatch toward Bridgeport, till you meet further orders from me.”

Sherman immediately complied, crossing his troops on the 1st and scattering various bands of Confederate guerrillas in the region. However, they were soon slowed by having to pull their supply train without the railroad, and heavy rains turned the roads to quagmires. As the troops struggled through the Elk River Valley into Tennessee, Grant sent another directive to Sherman:

“Leave (General Grenville) Dodge’s command at Athens until further orders, and come with the remainder of your command to Stevenson, or until you receive other orders. It is not my intention to leave any portion of your army to guard roads in the Department of the Cumberland when an advance is made, and particularly not Dodge, who has been kept constantly on that duty ever since he has been subject to my orders.”

Dodge’s division was to continue repairing the railroad until Grant launched his offensive. As a former railroad surveyor and engineer, Dodge had his men complete the work within 40 days. Meanwhile, the rest of Sherman’s forces continued moving as fast as possible toward Chattanooga. Once all reinforcements arrived, Grant intended to drive the Confederate army off Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge overlooking the city.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the Confederate side, President Jefferson Davis received General Braxton Bragg’s report on the defeat at Wauhatchie Station, as well as the new Federal supply line via Brown’s Ferry. Davis, still on his southern tour, replied from Savannah on the 1st:

“The result related is a bitter disappointment, as my expectations were sanguine that the enemy, by throwing across the Tennessee his force at Bridgeport, had ensured the success of the (Wauhatchie) operation suggested by General (James) Longstreet, and confided to his execution.”

Bragg had feuded with nearly all his subordinates, and three (Leonidas Polk, D.H. Hill, and Nathan Bedford Forrest) had been transferred out of the army. Bragg now looked to send Longstreet away. Longstreet had been one of Bragg’s harshest critics, and in October, Davis suggested sending his command to confront Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville. Although the Federals under “siege” at Chattanooga were now receiving supplies and reinforcements, Bragg decided to weaken his force by detaching Longstreet’s corps.

At a council of war on the 3rd, Bragg announced that Longstreet’s Confederates would head northeast into eastern Tennessee. The officers suggested some more effective alternatives, including attacking Grant’s right flank at Bridgeport or advancing the entire army against Burnside. Bragg rejected these proposals, stating that Longstreet would move out as soon as possible, accompanied by Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry.

Longstreet argued that splitting the army in two would “thus expose both to failure, and really take no chance to ourselves of great results.” But Bragg’s mind was made up. Longstreet prepared his men for the move, leaving Bragg with just 36,000 men to lay siege to an enemy almost twice their size.

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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. 338-39; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 33-35, 65-67, 182; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 821; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 367-68; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 428-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 189; 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

Chattanooga: Opening the Cracker Line

October 24, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant personally inspected the proposed supply route at Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee and approved the plan to open the “cracker line” to feed the Federals besieged in Chattanooga.

Despite recovering from a serious hip injury, Grant was back on his horse on the morning of the 24th for inspections. He studied the terrain around the landing at Brown’s Ferry and noted that just a single Confederate brigade from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps patrolled the area.

Gen W.F. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Grant also continued consulting with Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith, the army’s chief engineer who had discovered this route. Smith had been working on this plan with members of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s staff before Rosecrans was removed from army command.

Securing Brown’s Ferry would enable the Federals to control the Tennessee River below Confederate-held Raccoon Mountain. This allowed them to ship supplies from Bridgeport to Chattanooga via water, and although the supplies would have to cross the Tennessee twice, they could be shipped much faster than the current overland route by wagon trains through the Cumberland Mountains.

Under Smith’s plan, two Federal brigades would seize control of Brown’s Ferry, while Major General Joseph Hooker’s XI and XII corps would move across the Tennessee at Bridgeport, double-back toward Brown’s on the south bank of the river, clear out Confederates as they went, and help build a bridge at the ferry site.

Hooker doubted that the plan would work because his troops would have to move around the southern end of Lookout Mountain, on which Confederates could hide and ambush them from above. Hooker told Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding XI Corps, “It is a very hazardous operation, and almost certain to procure us a defeat.”

Hooker asked Grant for more time to prepare, but Grant instead directed Smith to go ahead and seize Brown’s Ferry with the two brigades without waiting for Hooker. Smith worried that without Hooker’s support, the Federals might not be able to hold it. Smith explained that just to get to the ferry, “Fifteen hundred men, under Brigadier-General (William) Hazen, were to embark in the boats and pass down the river a distance of about nine miles, seven of which would be under the fire of the pickets of the enemy.”

Both Smith and Hooker prepared their forces throughout the 25th. Hooker ordered Howard to move out at 9 a.m. the next day, but Howard explained that he had only one functioning artillery battery. Hooker replied, “We will march to-morrow if we go without any.” But then Hooker changed his mind and wrote Howard, “It will not be possible to bring all the force together in season to march to-morrow. Let everything be in readiness for an early start the following morning.”

Meanwhile, General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, guessed that if the Federals tried breaking out of Chattanooga, they would do so on the left, or west, of the Confederate line, held by Longstreet’s corps and anchored by Lookout Mountain. Longstreet wrote, “I have no doubt but the enemy will cross below and move against our rear. It is his easier and safest move.” By this time, Bragg was also receiving reports that Federals were gathering at Bridgeport, but neither he nor Longstreet made any moves to bolster the army’s left.

Confederates reported “a part of artillery going down on the opposite side of the river and that their pickets were doubled along the water front.” Cavalry troopers from Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s command reported a potential Federal river crossing at Bridgeport. If successful, the Federals could cut off Longstreet’s line of retreat. Longstreet received this news but decided to await further developments before acting.

At 3 a.m. on the 27th, Hazen’s 1,500 Federals began moving down the Tennessee on 24 pontoon boats, trading shots as they passed the Confederates on shore. The second brigade of 3,500 men led by Brigadier General John B. Turchin moved across Moccasin Point, a stretch of land opposite Raccoon Mountain, unnoticed. Hazen’s men rode the current to Moccasin Point, where they joined Turchin. The Federals then advanced to Brown’s Ferry, beyond the range of Confederate guns on Lookout Mountain.

The Federals reached the west bank of the Tennessee around daybreak, where Colonel William Oates’s 1,000 Confederates and three cannon tried stopping their advance. After a sharp 10-minute fight, the advance Confederate units fell back to their main camp. From there, a scout told Oates that only “seventy-five or one hundred” Federals were approaching. Oates later recalled, “I had the long roll beaten, and gave orders for the men to leave their knapsacks in camp and their little tent flies standing.”

Oates sent skirmishers forward with orders “to walk right up to the foe, and for every man to place the muzzle of his rifle against the body of a Yankee when he fired.” The skirmishers soon learned that they were vastly outnumbered. Oates was shot through the hip but managed to ride off to avoid capture. His men fell back to the safety of the west side of Lookout Mountain as the Federals secured Brown’s Ferry. The Federals lost just six killed and 32 wounded.

Meanwhile, Hooker’s Federals crossed the river at Bridgeport and cleared the Confederates from Raccoon Mountain before stopping at the western foot of Lookout. Hooker posted a division at Wauhatchie Station to guard his communications. Smith’s Federals completed their pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry around 4:30 p.m. This would enable their supply train to cross.

Longstreet watched the action from atop Lookout Mountain and remained convinced that the Federals planned to feint against Brown’s Ferry while attacking in earnest from Bridgeport to try turning Bragg’s left. Bragg directed Longstreet to stop the Federals’ “designs,” which Longstreet tried doing by sending a brigade to Bridgeport. But he did not inform Bragg of the engagement at Brown’s Ferry, and by nightfall, Hooker was within 10 miles of linking with Smith there.

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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; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 336; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 364-65; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 425-26; 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. 675; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 699; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189, 808-09

Chattanooga: Grant Takes Over

October 20, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant left Louisville to take personal command of the Federals besieged in Chattanooga as the new commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By the time Grant boarded the train to head south, the Federal Army of the Cumberland was slowly starving in Chattanooga. It had been reinforced by two corps from the Army of the Potomac, but Confederates had cut most of the supply lines into the city, making it almost impossible to feed the troops. General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, directed Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps to seal up all supply routes, but a few roundabout routes through the mountains remained open, thus giving the Federals a slim chance for survival.

More Federal reinforcements under Major General William T. Sherman were on their way from the west. His corps now consisted of five divisions with the addition of two from Memphis. Sherman’s men and supplies were loaded on transports at Eastport, Mississippi, and escorted by Federal gunboats as they steamed down the Tennessee River. This was an important water-borne supply route, but General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck still required Sherman to rebuild the Memphis & Charleston Railroad from Iuka, Mississippi, to Stevenson, Alabama, a distance of 161 miles.

Grant stopped at Nashville on the night of the 20th and moved on to Stevenson the next day. There Grant met with Major General William S. Rosecrans, whom Grant had just removed as Army of the Cumberland commander. Rosecrans graciously discussed the military situation in Grant’s railcar, even though the two men disliked each other. Rosecrans then departed northward while Grant spent the night in Bridgeport, about 40 miles down the Tennessee River from Chattanooga.

The rest of the journey to the besieged city had to be made on horseback through the mountains. This posed a problem for Grant because he was still on crutches due to injuries suffered when he fell off his horse in early September. Grant later wrote:

“There had been much rain, and the roads were almost impassable from mud, knee-deep in places, and from wash-outs on the mountain sides. I had been on crutches since the time of my fall in New Orleans, and had to be carried over places where it was not safe to cross on horseback. The roads were strewn with the debris of broken wagons and the carcasses of thousands of starved mules and horses.”

With his crutches lashed to his saddle, Grant and his party rode carefully over the muddy terrain up the Sequatchie Valley and over Walden’s Ridge, unable to use the direct approach to the city because it was covered by Confederate artillery. The group stopped for the night about halfway to Chattanooga, and then continued on the 23rd, when they encountered slightly better terrain.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Major General George H. Thomas, now commanding the Federals in Chattanooga, awaited Grant’s arrival. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing operations in Chattanooga, informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that since Thomas had taken over, “the change at headquarters here is already strikingly perceptible. Order prevails instead of universal chaos.”

Grant finally arrived at Thomas’s headquarters that night. Dana described Grant as “wet, dirty, and well.” One of Grant’s staffers, Colonel James H. Wilson, made a point of Thomas’s lack of hospitality; he did not offer any food, drink, or dry clothes to his new superior. Thomas quickly corrected this, but Grant would only accept food as he asked for a briefing on the situation.

Thomas and his officers explained that the men were going hungry because they could only get supplies from wagon trains vulnerable to Confederate cavalry as they moved 60 miles along the barely usable road from Bridgeport, through the Sequatchie Valley, and over Walden’s Ridge in the Cumberland Mountains. Grant later reported:

“Up to this period our forces in Chattanooga were practically invested, the enemy’s lines extending from the Tennessee River, above Chattanooga, to the river at and below the point of Lookout Mountain, below Chattanooga, with the south bank of the river picketed nearly to Bridgeport, his main force being fortified in Chattanooga Valley, at the foot of and on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, and a brigade in Lookout Valley. True, we held possession of the country north of the river, but it was from 60 to 70 miles over the most impracticable roads to army supplies.”

Thomas then referred Grant to Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith, the army’s chief engineer. Smith had been removed from the Army of the Potomac and demoted for criticizing Major General Ambrose E. Burnside after the Battle of Fredericksburg; now he sought to redeem himself.

Smith had developed a plan to supply the army via Brown’s Ferry, a river crossing about 10 miles downriver from Chattanooga. A road extended from the ferry through Lookout Valley, which the Confederates only lightly guarded. If the Federals could seize the ferry, they could facilitate the flow of supplies from Bridgeport to Chattanooga in half the time it took supplies to move through the mountains.

Grant listened to Smith’s plan and later wrote, “He explained the situation of the two armies and the topography of the country so plainly that I could see it without an inspection.” Grant also learned that Smith had already begun implementing the plan:

“(Smith) had established a saw-mill on the banks of the river, by utilizing an old engine found in the neighborhood; and, by rafting logs from the north side of the river above, had got out the lumber and completed pontoons and roadway plank for a second bridge, one flying bridge being there already. He was also rapidly getting out the materials and constructing the boats for a third bridge. In addition to this he had far under way a steamer for plying between Chattanooga and Bridgeport whenever we might get possession of the river. This boat consisted of a scow, made of the plank sawed out at the mill, housed in, and a stern wheel attached which was propelled by a second engine taken from some shop or factory.”

Grant judged the plan to be solid, but he asked if the troops had enough ammunition to keep the supply line open. He was told that each man only had a few cartridges, but once the line was opened, the ammunition at Bridgeport could be shipped to the troops. This would be a gamble, but it could be the only way to save the army. Grant approved opening what became known as the “cracker line.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 429; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18899-908; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 335-36; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 783, 802-05; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 363; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 424-25; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189