Tag Archives: William T. Sherman

Sherman “Rescues” Burnside at Knoxville

December 4, 1863 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals hurried from Chattanooga to aid the Federals at Knoxville, only to find that they were not in as desperate shape as anticipated.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, overall Federal commander in the Western Theater, had rushed Federals under Sherman on an 85-mile forced march to rescue Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio besieged in Knoxville. The siege had not been as destructive as the Confederates hoped, but by December it was starting to take its toll on the Federal defenders.

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

Sherman quickly assembled about 25,000 men from three different corps into a small army of relief. According to his orders, “The whole army will move direct on the enemy at Knoxville and fight them at the earliest moment.” Regarding ammunition, the men were to “use it with great prudence.” And, “If rations are not to be had, the men will cheerfully live on meal till their fellows in Knoxville are released from their imprisonment.”

The relief force arrived at the Hiwassee River on the 1st, poised to advance on Loudon and Knoxville the next day. Sherman wrote Grant, “Recollect that East Tennessee is my horror. That any military man should send a force into East Tennessee puzzles me. Burnside is there and must be relieved, but when relieved I want to get out, and he should come out too.”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commanding the Confederate siege force, remained at Knoxville despite failing to capture Fort Sanders outside town. Longstreet hoped to lure as many Federals as possible away from the recently defeated Army of Tennessee regrouping at Dalton, Georgia. A captured Federal messenger indicated that Sherman was on his way with six divisions, giving the Federals 10 total divisions against Longstreet’s three.

Longstreet held a council of war to consider his next move. The Confederates would need to leave Knoxville before Sherman arrived, but Longstreet was unsure where to go. The Davis administration wanted him to return to the demoralized Army of Tennessee, but his men would have to move through the forbidding terrain of eastern Tennessee in freezing cold, all the while avoiding Sherman’s Federals heading his way.

It was ultimately decided to stay outside Knoxville until Sherman was upon them, and then withdraw northeast toward the Virginia border. Sherman’s men entered Loudon on the 3rd. That night, Longstreet’s 15,000 Confederates began preparing to move northeast to Greeneville. From there they could continue to either operate in eastern Tennessee or move northeast to rejoin General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

By the morning of the 4th, neither Burnside nor Sherman were aware that Longstreet had abandoned Knoxville, as messages and prisoners taken indicated that the siege was still on. A Federal inspector general reported, “Longstreet is yet at Knoxville. He assaulted Burnside on Sunday and was badly whipped… Longstreet is evidently badly puzzled.”

Sherman’s Federals reached the Tennessee River, but it had swelled too high for a crossing. Without an engineer to build a bridge, Sherman sent his pioneers to take apart houses in Morganton to lay a makeshift span. By the night of the 4th, Sherman was approaching Knoxville just as the last of Longstreet’s men were leaving. Longstreet’s artillery chief, Colonel E. Porter Alexander, recalled, “About sundown it began to rain cats & dogs.” He continued:

“It was a hard night’s march. Not that the distance covered was great, but the killing feature is perpetual halting and moving, and halting and moving, inseparable from either night marching or bad roads, and at its maximum when both fall together. It was quite cold too, and the officers were obliged to relax discipline, and let the men burn fence rails at will, whenever a regular rest was made… In spite of the rain they seemed to have no trouble in starting fires… We marched all night, and until about 11 o’clock on Saturday (the 5th), when we camped at Blain’s Crossroads, 18 miles from Knoxville.”

The half-hearted Confederate siege of Knoxville was over, and while Longstreet remained in Tennessee, the Federals now virtually controlled the rest of the state. Burnside learned of Longstreet’s withdrawal late on the 4th and dispatched 4,000 Federal cavalry troopers under Brigadier General James Shackelford in a weak pursuit.

As Sherman’s Federals continued their forced march on the 5th, one of Burnside’s aides, Colonel James L. Van Buren, found Sherman and informed him that Longstreet had fled with Federal cavalry giving chase. Sherman responded by writing, “I am here, and can bring 25,000 men into Knoxville tomorrow; but Longstreet having retreated, I feel disposed to stop, for a stern chase is a long one. We are all hearty but tired.”

Sherman and his staff arrived in Knoxville the next day and met Burnside at his headquarters. Sherman, whose troops had hurried to rescue Burnside’s army, was enraged upon learning that Burnside had not been in as grave danger as had been earlier reported. According to Sherman, Burnside had “a fine lot of cattle, which did not look much like starvation.”

Burnside and his staff were “domiciled in a large, fine mansion, looking very comfortable.” When Burnside invited Sherman to dinner, Sherman noted the “regular dining table, with clean tablecloth, dishes, knives, forks, spoons, etc., etc. I had seen nothing of this kind in my field experience, and could not help exclaiming that I thought ‘they were starving.’”

Burnside explained that reports of starvation had been exaggerated; Longstreet had never fully invested Knoxville, thus allowing him to keep his army well supplied. Sherman later wrote, “Had I known of this, I should not have hurried my men so fast; but until I reached Knoxville I thought his troops there were actually in danger of starvation.”

The generals toured the Knoxville defenses, which Sherman deemed “a wonderful production for the short time allowed in their selection of ground and construction of work. It seemed to me that they were nearly impregnable.” Having “rescued” Burnside, Sherman wanted to return to Chattanooga, but he needed Burnside’s permission as the ranking officer. Burnside agreed and issued a written declaration:

“I desire to express to you and your command my most hearty thanks and gratitude for your promptness in coming to our relief during the siege of Knoxville, and I am satisfied your approach served to raise the siege. The emergency having passed, I do not deem, for the present, any other portion of your command but the (IV) corps of General (Gordon) Granger necessary for operations in this section… I deem it advisable that all the troops now here, save those commanded by General Granger, should return at once to within supporting distance of the forces in front of (Braxton) Bragg’s army. In behalf of my command, I desire again to thank you and your command for the kindness you have done us.”

Granger had resisted going to Knoxville in the first place, and now Sherman would leave him there. Granger protested to Grant to no avail. Grant wanted Sherman to stay in the region longer to eventually confront Longstreet, but when he received word that Sherman was returning to Chattanooga, he did not object. Sherman’s “army of relief” arrived back in Chattanooga on the 19th.

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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. 862, 865-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 154-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-43; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 50-51, 420-21

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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

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