The Battle of Chattanooga

 


Lookout Mountain from Union works in Chattanooga.
From Harper's Pictorial History of the Great Rebellion

 

    With the Confederate Army in front of Chattanooga divided into two corps, Hardee on the right and Breckinridge on the left on Missionary Ridge, and General Stevenson with a small force occupying Lookout Mountain, Bragg waited.

Grant's plan of battle was for Sherman with his four divisions to cross the Tennessee River at Brown's Ferry and march behind Stringer's Ridge, concealed from the eyes of the Confederates, and take a position near the North Chickamauga Creek. He was to re-cross the river by pontoon bridge at the mouth of the South Chickamauga Creek, strike the north end of Missionary Ridge and capture it as far as the railroad tunnel. Thomas was to move his Army of the Cumberland to the left, and connect with Sherman. This united force was to sweep the Confederates southward off Missionary Ridge and away from their base of supplies at Chickamauga Station. Howard's Corps was to act as a general reserve for this force. Hooker, with the Twelfth Corps and Brig. Gen. Charles Cruft's Division (Fourth Corps), was to hold Lookout Valley. Col. Eli Long's Cavalry was to cover Sherman's left and when no longer needed for this task was to strike Bragg's communications. This original plan, however, was changed several times to fit the situation.

      The rains that hampered movement of Union supplies also delayed Sherman's movement across the Tennessee. High water broke the bridge at Brown's Ferry and Osterhaus' Division could not cross the river. Subsequently it received orders to join Hooker in Lookout Valley. On November 22, Grant received word that Bragg was withdrawing his army; actually the movement reported was Buckner leaving to reinforce Longstreet. To "test the truth" of the report, Grant changed his plans and ordered Thomas to make a demonstration to his front on the 23rd. This began the battles of Chattanooga.

 


General Braxton Bragg, Commander
Army of Tennessee


Lt. General
James Longstreet


ORCHARD KNOB. The Union Army of the Cumberland had made its positions very strong during the time it was besieged by Bragg's army. One of its strong points was Fort Wood on an elevated point east of the town. Thomas, according to instructions, sent Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's and Brig. Gen. T J. Wood's divisions to level ground at Fort Wood and there formed them in line, Wood on the left, Sheridan on the right, with Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird supporting Sheridan. Brig. Gen. R. W. Johnson's troops held the trenches, and Maj. Gen. 0. 0. Howard's Corps, which had crossed from the north bank of the river, acted as the reserve.

      At 2 p. m. on November 23, the lines of blue moved forward, driving the Confederate outposts and their supports back to the base of Missionary Ridge, and captured Orchard Knob, a low hill a little more than a mile in front of the ridge. The Union forces occupied the captured entrenchments and erected a battery on Orchard Knob. Except for occasional artillery firing, the fighting ended for the day.

 

SHERMAN MOVES. During the night of November 23-24, Sherman began to carry out his role in the drama. He selected Brig. Gen. Giles A. Smith's brigade to man the pontoon boats, concealed in North Chickamauga Creek, to cross the Tennessee River and secure a bridgehead near the mouth of the South Chickamauga Creek. During the hours of darkness the brigade landed at its designated place. A few soldiers stopped at the mouth of the creek, surprising and capturing the pickets there. The remaining troops landed and prepared to build bridges across the Tennessee River and South Chickamauga Creek. By early afternoon they had finished the bridge across the river, and Sherman's forces were across and ready to attack. Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis' Division (Fourteenth Corps), which had guarded the pontoons, also crossed and became part of Sherman's force.

      Sherman attacked and seized the north end of Missionary Ridge at 4 p. m. against only Confederate outpost opposition. To his surprise, Sherman found a deep and wide ravine separating the north end of the ridge from Tunnel Hill immediately southward, his real objective. Cleburne's Division of Confederate troops had hurried to Tunnel Hill only an hour or two before Sherman seized the north end of Missionary Ridge, and they were busily engaged entrenching there when Sherman arrived across the ravine from them. Sherman did not attack Tunnel Hill that afternoon, but entrenched where he was.

 


Maj. General William T. Sherman


Maj. General Ulysses S. Grant

THE BATTLE ABOVE THE CLOUDS, NOVEMBER 24. While operations were in progress, east of Chattanooga, Hooker moved into action west of the town. The failure of Osterhaus' Division to join Sherman resulted in another change of orders. A new plan for Hooker to take Lookout Mountain and descend into Chattanooga Valley replaced the original one of having him merely hold Lookout Valley and the route to Bridgeport. Hooker had three divisions in his force commanded by Brigadier Generals Peter J. Osterhaus, John W. Geary, and Charles Cruft, each from a different army corps. Geary was on the right at Wauhatchie, Cruft in the center, and Osterhaus near Brown's Ferry. It was a unique team. One who was present wrote, "We were all strangers, no one division ever having seen either of the others."

      The terrain that confronted Hooker's command was rugged, steep, heavily timbered, and topped by a rocky cliff. At the northern end, at the cliff base and halfway up the mountain, was a bench of nearly level land. On it stood the Cravens Farm. At 8 a. m. on November 24 Hooker sent Geag's Division, supported by a brigade from Cruft's Division, to effect a crossing of Lookout Creek. The troops accomplished this with little opposition and Geary climbed the mountain until the head of his column reached the cliff. The division then moved to the left and proceeded northward toward the point of the mountain.

    While Geary climbed the mountain, Cruft, with his force, moved farther down the valley toward the Tennessee River and seized a bridge over the creek. Osterhaus's Division then crossed the stream at that point in the face of sharp skirmishing with Confederate defenders before the latter retreated up the mountain. The three Union divisions soon joined on a common line and, supported by Union batteries on Moccasin Point, steadily drove Walthall's Confederate brigade around the point of Lookout Mountain to the Cravens farmhouse. By noon, Hooker's forces were in possession of the farm but the Confederates made a stand beyond the Cravens house within prepared defense works, and were joined there by two brigades from the top of the mountain. Fog, which covered the Mountainside most of the morning, became so heavy that by 2 p. m. it was almost impossible to see. This factor, plus a shortage of ammunition, caused Hooker to halt and consolidate his position. Later in the afternoon, Carlin's brigade arrived with a resupply of ammunition. During the night, General Stevenson withdrew the Confederate forces from Lookout Mountain and marched them to Missionary Ridge where they joined their comrades holding that sector of the line.

    "The Battle Above the Clouds" was fought on the bench of land surrounding the Cravens house. There was no fighting on top the mountain. The romantic name given in later years to this action on the Union right was the result of the fog and mist which shrouded the mountain that day from observers below. It was not until the next morning that the 8th Kentucky Volunteers planted the Stars and Stripes on top of the bluff.


Maj. General George H. Thomas,
"The Rock of Chickamauga"

 

MISSIONARY RIDGE NOVEMBER 25. The decisive blow of the battle was at hand. Grant's Orders for the Morning of November 25 were as follows: "Sherman was directed to attack at daylight. Hooker was ordered to move at the same hour and endeavor to intercept the enemy's retreat, if he still remained; if he had gone, then to move directly to Rossville and operate against the left and rear of the force on Missionary Ridge. Thomas was not to move until Hooker had reached Missionary Ridge."

    Sherman began his attack, as directed, just after sunrise. His troops attacked Cleburne's Division frontally, but without success. All night the Confederates had worked at strengthening their position on Tunnel Hill, which now formed the Confederate right. These field works gave good protection to Cleburne's men from enemy fire. The stubbornly fighting Confederates held their positions against repeated attacks by superior numbers. This fight continued until 3 P. M., and is a notable example of the value to a greatly outnumbered defending force of field works on a good position. Some Union troops did make a lodgment on the slopes of Tunnel Hill in the afternoon, but a Confederate charge drove them off. Cleburne's soldiers held the hill.

    In the meantime, Hooker was in trouble, not with the enemy, but with Chattanooga Creek. He started for Rossville bright and early to get into position to strike Bragg's left. Stevenson's men, who had evacuated Lookout Mountain during the night, had burned the bridge across Chattanooga Creek and had done all they could to obstruct the roads that Hooker needed to march to Rossville. Hooker lost 3 hours building a bridge across the creek and it was late afternoon before his men took their places on Missionary Ridge.

    From his post on Orchard Knob, Grant realized that Sherman's attacks had failed to gain their objective and that Hooker had been delayed in reaching his assigned position. To relieve some of the pressure on Sherman, Grant ordered Thomas to move out against the Confederate center on Missionary Ridge.

    The ridge that lie before the Union troops was rough and steep. It rose from 200 to 400 feet higher than the level ground at its base. Its steep slopes were broken by ravines, strewn with boulders, and dotted with stumps, the latter reminders of recently felled timber. The first line of Confederate breastworks was at the foot of the ridge. Some unfinished works had been built halfway up the slope. Finally, a third line of works was built on the natural, instead of the military, crest of the hill. Thus, Confederate fire from the crest could not cover some of the ravine approaches.

    Four Union divisions, Baird, Wood, Sheridan, and R. W Johnson, from left to right, started toward the ridge. The hard charging Union soldiers soon overwhelmed the gray defenders in the rifle pits at the base of the ridge. Scarcely halting, and generally without orders to continue, the men in blue charged up the ridge. They followed the retreating Confederates so closely from the rifle pits that the Confederates on the crest in many places hesitated to fire for fear of hitting their own men. It was not long before units of the Army of the Cumberland pierced the Confederate line in several places and sent Bragg's veterans reeling in retreat down the east slope of the ridge toward Chickamauga Creek. Sheridan pushed forward in pursuit of the retreating army, capturing men, artillery, and equipment. Even though the Confederate center had disintegrated, Hardee held his position on the Confederate right until darkness, and then began his withdrawal with Cleburne's Division covering the retreat. Bragg's army crossed Chickamauga Creek during the night, carrying out a surprisingly successful retreat.

    During the evening of the 25th, Grant issued orders to Thomas and Sherman to pursue Bragg. The next morning, Sherman advanced by way of Chickamauga Station, and Thomas' troops marched on the Rossville Road toward Graysville and Ringgold. In the vicinity of Ringgold, Cleburne's Confederates held a strong position on Taylor's Ridge covering Bragg's retreat. Cleburne's men repulsed a Union attack, inflicting heavy casualties until Bragg's army had successfully withdrawn southward, and then they followed. Union troops then occupied Taylor's Ridge. There the pursuit stopped.

    This decisive Union victory raised the siege of Chattanooga.

The following tabulation of strength and casualties at the Battle of Chattanooga is based on Livermore's studies:

Army Total
Strength
Total
Casualties
Killed Wounded Missing Percent
Casualties
Union 56,360 5,824 753 4,722 349 10
Confederate 46,165 6,667 361 2,160 4,146 14

"Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefields" by James R. Sullivan. National Park Service Historical Handbook Series No. 25, 1951