Tag Archives: Thomas J. Wood

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: 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

The Battle of Chickamauga: Day Two

September 20, 1863 – The terrible battle in northwestern Georgia entered its second day and threatened to result in Federal disaster.

As the day began, the Federal Army of the Cumberland was still situated on a line running from north (left) to south (right). Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the army, placed most of his strength on the left to block the roads leading to Chattanooga. Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps and several supporting divisions held the left near the Kelly house.

General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee held a line roughly parallel to the Federals, with the right (north) wing led by Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk and the left (south) wing led by Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Bragg expected Polk to assault the Federal left at dawn, with the rest of the army attacking en echelon from right to left.

Lieutenant General D.H. Hill’s Confederate corps, now part of Polk’s wing, was to begin the attack. But Hill did not know about any of this until a courier delivered Bragg’s orders to him that morning. Hill read the orders and protested that he could not get his men into assault positions “for an hour or more.” Bragg arrived on the scene and berated both Polk and Hill for the delay.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The attack finally began at 9 a.m., but the Confederates could not break the strong defenses that Thomas’s Federals had built overnight. Frustrated by Polk’s delay, Bragg canceled the echelon attack and instead ordered Longstreet’s left wing to assault the Federal center. Heavy woods, rough terrain, and piecemeal troop deployment resulted in many small, independent battles opening all along the line.

Confederates charged the Federal center some time after 9 a.m., but Federals on either flank helped push them back. Around 10:30 a.m., Rosecrans received word that a gap had formed in his center, between the divisions of Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood and Major General Joseph J. Reynolds. This “gap” was actually held by Brigadier General John M. Brannan’s division, but Rosecrans could not see it through the dense woods.

At 10:55 a.m., Wood received an order from Rosecrans’s headquarters: “The general commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds as fast as possible, and support him. Respectfully, &c. Frank S. Bond, Major and Aide-de-Camp.” This contradicted itself because it directed Wood to move closer to Reynolds’s men on the left but also to move behind Reynolds in support. It also bypassed Wood’s corps commander, Major General Thomas L. Crittenden, in the chain of command.

Wood quickly decided to support Reynolds, thus moving his division out of the Federal line and opening a major gap between the Brotherton and Viniard houses that one of Thomas’s aides called “a chasm in the center.” Longstreet quickly exploited this error by sending 10,000 men through the quarter-mile opening just before noon. The men belonged to the divisions of Major Generals Thomas C. Hindman and John Bell Hood. Longstreet’s aggressiveness earned him the nickname “Old Bull of the Woods.”

The Confederates destroyed the two Federal corps (Major General Alexander McCook’s and Crittenden’s) in the center and on the right, overrunning Rosecrans’s headquarters and sending half the Federal army fleeing in retreat. A Federal general recalled, “All became confusion. No order could be heard above the tempest of battle. With a wild yell the Confederates swept on the far to their left. They seemed everywhere victorious.”

Rosecrans ordered a general retreat to Chattanooga, and Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing on behalf of the War Department, telegraphed at 4 p.m., “My report today is of deplorable importance. Chickamauga is as fatal a day in our history as Bull Run.” Dana described the scene:

“They came through with resistless impulse, composed of brigades formed in divisions. Before them our soldiers turned and fled. It was wholesale panic. Vain were all attempts to rally them… We have lost heavily in killed today. The total of our killed, wounded, and prisoners can hardly be less than 20,000, and may be much more… Enemy not yet arrived before Chattanooga. Preparations making to resist his entrance for a time.”

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

But as the Federal center and right dissolved, the left held firm. Thomas formed a defense line on Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge west of the hill. All units that had not been routed assembled on this line and repelled attacks from four of Longstreet’s divisions; Longstreet later estimated that he attacked the line 25 times without success.

Longstreet prepared to shift his forces and attack Thomas’s rear when Major General Gordon Granger, without orders, moved toward the sound of gunfire and brought up Brigadier General James Steedman’s division from his Reserve Corps to block the maneuver around 2:30 p.m.

Rosecrans dispatched his chief of staff, Brigadier General James A. Garfield, to prepare defenses at Chattanooga. When Garfield told Thomas that Rosecrans called for his “retiring to a position in the rear,” Thomas said, “It will ruin the army to withdraw it now. This position must be held until night.” Garfield informed Rosecrans that Thomas remained “standing like a rock.” Northern newspapers soon nicknamed Thomas “The Rock of Chickamauga.”

Thomas’s Federals making a stand | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As darkness approached and Confederate pressure intensified, Thomas began withdrawing his forces one unit at a time. The movement took two hours. The Federals pulled back through McFarland’s Gap to Rossville, where they held the mountain gaps and blocked any Confederate advance on Chattanooga. Three of Granger’s regiments (the 21st and 89th Ohio, and the 22nd Michigan) remained on the defense line, with orders to defend it with their bayonets after running out of ammunition. They held until the rest of the troops escaped, and then they surrendered.

This was the most terrible battle ever fought in the Western Theater, as both commanders lost nearly 30 percent of their armies in the two-day struggle. The Federals sustained 16,170 total casualties (1,657 killed, 9,756 wounded and 4,757 missing), including seven brigade commanders, from about 58,000 effectives. Rosecrans wired General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that night, “We have met with a serious disaster; extent not yet ascertained. Enemy overwhelmed us, drove our right, pierced our center, and scattered troops there.”

Garfield met with Thomas at Rossville and reported to Rosecrans that “our men not only held their ground, but in many points drove the enemy splendidly. Longstreet’s Virginians have got their bellies full. I believe we can whip them tomorrow. I believe we can now crown the whole battle with victory.” But Rosecrans, exhausted physically and mentally, remained in Chattanooga and conceded defeat.

The Confederates lost 18,454 (2,312 killed, 14,674 wounded and 1,468 missing), including nine division and two brigade commanders, from about 66,000 men. Bragg reported capturing over 8,000 prisoners, 51 guns with 2,381 artillery rounds, and 23,281 small arms with over 135,000 rifle rounds. This was the largest arms seizure on a battlefield during the war.

While this was a major Confederate victory, Thomas saved the Federal army from complete destruction. Also, Bragg did not receive definitive reports on the Federal rout and thus did not order a pursuit. When a Confederate soldier who had escaped capture told Bragg that the Federals were in full retreat, Bragg asked, “Do you know what a retreat looks like?” The solder said, “I ought to, General; I’ve been with you during your whole campaign.”

Although Bragg missed an opportunity to destroy Rosecrans’s army, he had handed the Federals a disastrous defeat, which he hoped would lead to regaining Chattanooga and eventually all of Tennessee. Nevertheless, Hill later wrote:

“It seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga… He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope. That ‘barren victory’ sealed the fate of the Confederacy.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 136-38; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 426-27; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 841-42; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 78-79; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 327; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 736, 747-48, 754, 756, 758, 763; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 352; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 319; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55-73; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 67-69, 220-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 411-12; 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. 673-74; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-38, 370; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642