The deciding battle of the Civil War with the Army of the
Cumberland under George H. Thomas
vs. the Army of Tennessee under Braxton Bragg. With a fair amount of help from Hooker.
- Comparative time table for 25 Nov.
- 20 questions which other writers don't
- Map overview
- 1901 War Dept. map
- Contour map from Grant's battle report
- Current city maps of Orchard Knob and
- Stewart's Division's reports with a detail of 1896 map showing Osterhaus's movements against Bragg's left flank.
|Map by Hal Jespersen,
Click on the thumbnail to enlarge. Note the elongated arrow for Hooker's penetration far behind Bragg's left flank. This is the key to the whole "miracle" at Missionary Ridge.
Thomas to Halleck after the nomination of
Rosecrans to succeed Buell (Van Horne, "Life", p. 88): "I have
made my last protest while the war lasts. You may hereafter put a stick
over me if you choose to do so. I will take care, however, to so
manage my command, whatever it may be, as not to be involved in the
mistakes of the stick."
<>Lincoln to Halleck, 21 Sept. 1863: I think it very important for Gen. Rosecrans to hold his position, at or about Chattanooga, because...If he can only maintain this position, without more, the rebellion can only eke out a short and feeble existence, as an animal sometimes may with a thorn in its vitals.">
"Jefferson Davis after the war (Piatt, pg. 509):
"Chattanooga was the key to the situation, and its loss was
terrible to the Confederacy. Our only comfort was, that the people at
Washington did not know what to do with it."
Dana to Stanton, 25 Nov. 63,
4:30 PM: "Glory to God. The day is decisively ours. Missionary
Ridge has just been carried by a magnificent charge of Thomas' troops,
and rebels routed. Hooker has got
in their rear." <ar55_68> Everyone
there knew this.
Dana to Stanton, 26 Nov. 63: "The storming of the
ridge by our troops was one of the greatest miracles in military history. No
man who climbs the ascent by any of the roads that wind along its front
can believe that 18,000 men were moved up its broken and crumbling face
unless it was his fortune to witness the deed. It seems as awful as a visible interposition of God."
<ar55_69> Laying it on thick
Grant in his report:
"Their progress was steadily onward until
the summit was in their possession. In this charge the casualties were
remarkably few for the fire encountered. I can
account for this only on the theory that the enemy's surprise at the
audacity of such a charge caused confusion and purposeless aiming of
their pieces." <ar55_35> Almost a miracle.
Bragg in his report:
"By the road across the ridge at Rossville, far to our left, a
route was open
to our rear."
<ar55_665> Bragg should have
the last word on this.
The battle for Chattanooga was the turning point in the Civil War because it opened the doorway to the Union forces for invasion into the deep South at the last moment for making possible the capture of Atlanta in time to influence the 1864 congressional and presidential elections.
After the defeat of the Union army at Chickamauga, which was saved from being a complete rout only by the memorable stand of Thomas against Bragg's entire army (25,000 against 60,000), Rosecrans fortified Chattanooga, abandoning the heights of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge to Bragg. Rosecrans was thus safe for the moment, but his supply situation was critical and got worse.
For various reasons (chaos also in the Confederate supply situation, horrendous losses at Chickamauga, strong fortifications around Chattanooga) Bragg decided to starve Rosecrans out rather than attack, whereby it wasn't exactly clear who was besieging whom. Bragg was also busy trying to clean out all of the insubordinate elements in his army who had contributed greatly to limit his options before this battle, indeed since his first foray into Kentucky. At this moment, one of the most insubordinate elements was Longstreet, the savior from the East. He had arrived the night before the 2nd day of the battle of Chickamauga, expecting Davis to sooner or later name him Bragg's replacement, and after the battle he jumped feet first into the rebellion among Bragg's officers, aligning himself against Bragg, of course. But then Davis came to Chickamauga, listened, saw, and stuck with Bragg.
Bragg tried to placate Longstreet by giving him the responsibility for the entire left flank (Chattanooga Valley, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Valley, and beyond), but Longstreet was not to be mollified. He displayed complete indifference to his charge, disobeyed Bragg's order to throw back Hazen (who had effected the crossing at Brown's Ferry on 27 Oct.), and disobeyed Bragg's order to use "all necessary force" to oppose Hooker who had entered Lookout Valley from the West on 28 Oct. with a mixed corps. Instead, Longstreet ordered an improvised night attack by a division against Hooker's rear guard - a division at Wauhatchie under Geary. The attack was beaten off, and Hooker was there to stay as long as he wanted. This stabilized the line of supply from the Nashville railroad to Stevenson, Ala., from there via steamboat to Kelley's Ferry, and on to Chattanooga via the easy wagon and RR route past Raccoon Mountain to Brown's Ferry - the "cracker line." Having thrown away Bragg's entire left flank, Longstreet then lobbied with Davis in order to be sent back to Virginia, promising to stop on the way and chase Burnside out of Knoxville.* Lee was also asking for Longstreet's return, and Davis so ordered. Bragg concurred, wanting to be rid of Longstreet anyway, hoping the threat to Burnside would draw away some of Grant's forces from Chattanooga, and an embittered Longstreet moved out on 5 Nov. 1863.
For Grant had arrived on 23 Oct in order to head Thomas off at the pass. His reception at Thomas' headquarters has been described in various ways. Some commentators, straining to polish the image of the adventurer, attribute Grant's later persecution of Thomas to Thomas' alleged delay that evening in providing for poor, wet Grant's creature comforts. The commentators base their interpretation of the trivial incident on an exageration of Wilson's account and ignore Porter's version. Thomas, on 19 Oct., had taken over the command of the Army of the Cumberland from Rosecrans who had not recovered from his failure at Chickamauga. Thomas immediately began to reorganize the army and solve the supply problem (following the plan worked out by Baldy Smith and Rosecrans). Grant put his stamp on and appropriated the plan which was already underway. Meanwhile Grant was preparing his own plan which was designed to highlight Sherman as the agent of the victory in the coming battle against Bragg, with all due reflection upon himself as the architect thereof. At this time Sherman was slowly approaching Chattanooga from western Tennessee, marching at the pace of his wagon trains which Grant had instructed thim to leave behind. He was at the head of Grant's former army, the Army of the Tennessee, as Grant had been promoted to Commander of the Division of the Mississippi.
However, Thomas and Grant didn't like each other very much. Grant
felt uncertain of himself in Thomas's presence, seeing in him the only
possible rival for overall command. On the other hand, Thomas didn't
like Grant's "informal" way of doing battle. Moreover, Thomas
didn't really need Grant's help to deal with Bragg. For a thorough
analysis of this situation, see my article Politics in the Union Army at the Battle for
Chattanooga. Grant's hidden or not so hidden agenda (promote
Sherman, get himself called East to take on Lee, open other paths
to further advancement after the war) was therefore in
conflict with that of Thomas who merely wanted to decisively defeat
Bragg and shorten the war.
|In a nutshell, Sherman arrived late, then got off to a slow start, and performed incredibly badly in his task of taking the northern end of Missionary Ridge.** This series of lapses allowed Thomas to shift his effort to where he wanted to make it in the beginning, namely against Bragg's southern flank at Rossville Gap. According to Grant's plan, Hooker was to be held in reserve, and maybe demonstrate a little bit, and Thomas was only to demonstrate and then join Sherman in a victory sweep down the ridge. To make things even worse from Grant's point of view, Hooker exceded expectations, two days in a row. The best laid plans of mice and desperate adventurers...||
Walker on display at the Point Park Visitors' Center in Chattanooga.
Click on image to enlarge.
The battle opened on 23 Nov. 1863. Grant ordered Thomas to make a foray to determine the truth of a deserter's report that Bragg was evacuating Missionary Ridge (he wasn't). Thomas, in a way which must have infuriated Grant, expanded on the order, set up what looked like a parade, and then unleashed it against Orchard Knob, a little hill about 1 mile in front of Missionary Ridge. At first Bragg, observing from above, dismissed the troops' movement as a review staged in honor of Grant. Breckinridge disagreed and according to Cozzens (Shipwreck, pg. 139) said, "General Bragg, in about fifteen minutes you are going to see the damnedest review you ever saw." This push forward cleared the valley and set up Hooker's attack the next day.
On 24 Nov. 1863, while Hooker attacked Lookout Mountain, Sherman was crossed the Tennessee and occupyed the northern and undefended end of Missionary Ridge. After reaching the opposite bank in the wee hours of the morning Sherman stopped until 10 AM to wait for everyone to cross, fortifying the crossing. He even left a division (under Davis) to protect it! It then took Sherman 6 hours to cover 3 miles to the first rise (A in the photo below) against no resistance, and he camped there at 4 PM, fortified again, and sent a telegram to Grant to announce that he had reached the tunnel, the objective named in his orders (D in the photo photo below). He was, however, a mile short of it. These compounded failures gave Cleburne that night the opportunity to place his division on Tunnel Hill (C in the photo below). E on the photo below shows the northern end of Bragg's position on the morning of the 24th. If Sherman had bothered to send out scouts to reconnoitre the terrain before him, he would have discovered his error and, who knows, maybe even have pushed some units forward and saved himself a lot of trouble the next day. But let us not judge Sherman too harshly. Manic depressives have difficulty reaching decisions when under pressure.
|According to his own memoirs, on the morning of 15 Nov. 1863 Sherman had "a magnificent view of the panorama" of the north end of Missionary Ridge from this same vantage point (today's Fort Wood Historical District). This is about what he saw, with the difference that then many of the trees had been removed to clear fields of fire, for firewood, and for construction material so that the cuts, obvious anyway, were even even more obvious to anyone paying attention. To see an enlargement of this photo, along with a more detailed treatment of the whole "wrongly laid down" map question, click here.|
Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson, who later crushed
Hood's left wing at Nashville and toward
the end of the war defeated Forrest at Selma,
is as good an authority as any on this matter, and in his Memoirs he
wrote the following about Sherman's performance at Chattanooga ("Under
the Old Flag," pg. 235):
"The simple fact is that Sherman, as if depressed by his
disastrous failure at Chickasaw Bayou, was at the time a timid leader,
who could not be depended upon to push home his advantages...My opinion
was confirmed by the failure of his movement against Bragg's right at
the battle of Missionary Ridge and still further by his belated and
abortive second [Meridian] campaign in January and February, 1864, from
Vicksburg through Jackson toward central Alabama." He writes
further on pp. 295-96: "With his [Sherman's] three divisions,
of not less than fifteen thousand men, safely landed on the south bank
of the river, there was nothing left for him to do but to move against
the enemy. The country was entirely open, and, while the ground was
high and rolling, the way both to the enemy's flank and rear was
straight out from the river. Nothing could have been more favorable to
a direct attack or to a turning movement against the enemy's right
flank and rear, but from the first to the close of the next day
Sherman's movements were slow and ineffective. Instead of pushing
resolutely to the attack he lost several hours in digging rifle pits to
cover the bridge, and when he finally advanced, found the enemy fully
ready and able to resist him. Having discovered the peril he was in,
Bragg made haste that afternoon to strengthen his extreme right by
bringing troops from other parts of his line. So prompt and vigorous
was his action that he made good his position and repelled every attack
not only that day but the next. Sherman's men fought bravely enough,
but their efforts were disjointed, desultory, and abortive, while those
of the enemy were coherent and effective.
The fact that halting to fortify had cost the Federal commander all the advantages of a surprise and had reduced his operations from a successful turning movement to a direct attack of entrenchments, which from Chickasaw Bayou to the the siege of Vicksburg had for him generally been a failure. Why, as soon as he found out what he was up against, he did not throw himself around the enemy's flank, against his communications and rear has never been satisfactorily explained. It may be claimed that he had not been ordered to do so, but the simple fact is that Sherman, with all his brillancy, was not the man for such bold and conclusive operations."
Hooker, in his pithy way, confirms this. I dare to quote him,
although I know that most commentators reflexively pronounce the name
of one battle whenever Hooker is cited. However, they ignore the rest
of his record (aside from Chattanooga, excellent days at Resacca and
Peachtree Creek), do not carefully consider Howard's role in the defeat
at Chancellorsville, and thus save themselves, they believe, a lot of
work. Anyway, we shouldn't let that deter us from throwing as much
light on possible on the character of a man who later became
Commander-in-Chief of the Army. In a letter of 8 Dec. 1864 to Senator
Henry Wilson, Hooker wrote the following, in my opinion, accurate
"Sherman is active and intelligent, but so devoid of judgment that it is actually unsafe to trust an army to his command. I know of what I am writing. If he is not flighty, I never saw a flighty man."
Be that as it may, Sherman's stumbling was not without
benefit to the Union cause. Namely, it allowed Thomas to set Hooker in
motion toward Rossville Gap. Thomas well knew what would happen once
Hooker took the bit in his mouth. This was not Grant's original
intention, as his following instruction to Thomas of the evening of the
"If Hooker's present position on the mountain can be maintained with a small force, and it is found impracticable to carry the top from where he is, it would be advisable for him to move up the valley with all the force he can spare and ascend [to the top of Lookout Mountain] by the first practicable road."
Instead, in a series of orders Thomas again expanded on, or in
Cozzens' words "flouted" Grant's directive (Shipwreck, pg.
201). At 9:30 PM of the 24th:
"Be in readiness to advance as early as possible in the morning into Chattanooga Valley and seize and hold the Summertown road and co-operate with the Fourteenth Corps by supporting its right."
And again, at 7:00 AM on the 25th, Thomas gave Hooker the
"The general commanding desires that you immediately move forward, in accordance with instructions of last evening."
And finally at 10:10 AM:
Move with the remainder of your force, except two regiments to hold Lookout Mountain, on the Rossville road toward Missionary Ridge, looking well to your right flank.
I go into this all of this detail only to demonstrate how a
general pursuing a military agenda outmaneuvers a general pursuing a
When Grant woke up on the morning of the 25th he saw the Union flag waving on Lookout Mountain. Imagine his consternation when he looked to the other end of his line and fully realized in what a predicament Sherman had put them. But at this point at the latest, things were out of his control. Enterprising people were again going beyond the scope of Grant's orders, decidedly the pattern at Chattanooga. At about 10 AM the morning of 25 Nov. 1863, Hooker with 2 and 1/2 divisions started from the foot of Lookout Mountain. For hours, in full view of Bragg and thousands of his soldiers, they marched quicktime and unopposed along the one road across the valley toward Bragg's left flank. Sometime before noon the lead division under Osterhaus (one of Sherman's commanders who was stranded on the south side of the Tennessee by a break in a pontoon bridge and then loaned to Hooker) arrived at Chattanooga creek. The bridge had been burned, and the creek was too high to ford due to recent rains. He still got his division across by improvising a footpath on top of the remains of the bridge (Cozzens, Shipwreck, pg. 245, Osterhaus' report <ar55_601>), and/or across the stringers of the new bridge according to Hooker's report. Once across, Osterhaus set about clearing Rossville Gap while the bridge was being repaired for the artillery. At about 3 PM he headed north on the eastern side of the ridge while the divisions under Cruft and Geary moved north on the crest and on the western side. These movements started a panic in Southern ranks which then helped Thomas's troops to break Bragg's center in at least 6 places during the famous charge up the ridge.
Osterhaus met little opposition and therefore got around far to the rear of Bragg's position (see map) and attacked from behind, capturing 2000 prisoners (Osterhaus' report <ar55_602>) . The panic may well have started even earlier as Bragg's soldiers watched Hooker's parade across the valley toward their road back home if he so chose. They must have seen him, because Hooker could see them, as his dispatch to Thomas of the morning of the 25th indicates:
"Upon the clearing up of the fog, since dispatch at sunrise, we can see the enemy's camps over on the slope of Missionary Ridge and in the valley near there."
At some point or other, they decided to save their army if Bragg
wouldn't. As Piatt (Life of Thomas, pg. 484) wrote:
"Those men at the guns and in the rifle-pits saw above
Lookout Mountain the old flag of the Union floating brightly in the
sunlight, and but a few hours before the attack the word went whispered
down the line that the Yankees who had taken Lookout Mountain were on
The authors of "The American Civil War" (West Point
Military History Series, 1987), also dispute that a miracle took place.
On page 186 they write:
"There were a number of factors contributing to the Confederate flight. The defenders on Missionary Ridge had watched most of the events of the last three days from front row seats. They had witnessed the fall of Orchard Knob on November 23; they had seen Lookout Mountain seized on the following day; they had seen Hooker march off to their left and out of their view on the twenty-fifth; they had heard the heavy firing surrounding Sherman's assaults on the right; they had heard the firing on their left when Hooker reappeared and attacked the southern end of the ridge. Moreover, they knew that their position was not strong; each man was seven to eight feet from his neighbor, and few fortifications had been constructed on top of the ridge before November 23. Finally, a gap existed between Bates' and Anderson's divisions in the center of the line. As a result, a general feeling of uneasiness existed among the defenders of Missionary Ridge. When the long lines of blue coats swept across the plain below and started up the ridge, it was too much."
In any case, something must have gone terribly wrong for the
Confederate defenders if one of Stewart's regiments fled west from
Hooker, only to be captured by the men of Johnson's division. For
a description of Hooker's activities as the Confederates experienced
them, see the long-lost Stewart's
Thomas's charge resulted from Grant's initial orders for a limited demonstration in order to draw away pressure from Sherman. Thomas's troops were supposed to advance to the foot of the ridge "take the rifle pits" and stop - a really bad order because the soldiers would have been directly exposed to defending fire from above. In various ways, Thomas stalled the execution of this order until about 4 PM when he knew that Hooker was around behind Bragg.
How did he know? He could hear the noise of battle (cannon fire can carry 25 miles) as Hooker's attack progressed toward the center. The Confederates on the ridge could hear it. The Union troops in the valley could hear it. And Grant could hear it and knew what it portended for his plan.
When the troops did take the rifle pits, they continued the charge up to the crest (4 to 500 feet above the flats, inclination up to 45%), and broke through. There is dispute among historians concerning whether this charge was spontaneous, whether the various division and brigade commanders were simply confused, or whether Thomas had in some way ordered the movement beyond the rifle pits behind Grant's back. A reading of the division and brigade commanders' reports shows that some of them believed they had received positive orders to go all the way to the top.
Granger, Grant, and Thomas on Orchard Knob (near signal flag)
Painting by T. De Thulstrap, click on image to enlarge.
For example, the division commander Baird on the Federal center
left and August Willich (under Wood in the center and one of the first
brigade commanders to reach the top) wrote in their reports that their
orders, as they understood them, were to take the crest. Baird wrote
the following in his battle report:
"I had just completed the establishment of my line, and was upon the left of it, when a staff officer from Major-General Thomas brought me verbal orders to move forward to the edge of the open ground which bordered the foot of Mission Ridge within striking distance of the rebel rifle-pits at its base, so as to be ready at a signal, which would be the firing of six guns from Orchard Knob, to dash forward and take those pits. He added, this was intended as preparatory to a general assault on the mountain, and that it was doubtless designed by the major-general commanding that I should take part in this movement, so that I would be following his wishes were I to push on to the summit."
That is a pretty clear statement. It is made even clearer
by the testimony of one of his subordinates, Major James Connolly, who
on 7 Dec. 63 wrote to wife the following:
"I rode down along the line of our division, and there I
found Woods Division formed on our right and facing the Ridge just as
we were; I rode on and came to Sheridan' s Division formed on Woods
right and facing the same. Here was a line of veteran troops nearly two
miles long, all facing Mission Ridge, and out of sight of the enemy.
The purpose at once became clear to me, and I hurried back to my own
Division, and on asking Gen. [Baird] he replied: 'When 6 guns are fired
in quick succession from Fort Wood, the line advances to storm the
heights and carry the Ridge if possible.'" (Connolly, "Three Years in
the Army of the Cumberland," pg. 156).
Willich wrote the following in his report:
"At 9 a.m. on the 25th, under orders, our pickets drove the enemy back to their rifle-pits at the foot of Missionary Ridge. At 11 a.m. I received an order to prepare for an advance, and to advance toward Missionary Ridge at the signal of six rapid cannon shots.
I understand since that the order was given to take only the rifle-pits at the foot of the ridge; by what accident, I am unable to say, I did not understand it so; I only understood the order to advance."
This is confirmed by Hazen who wrote in his memoirs (A Narrative
of Miliary Service, 1895, pg. 176):
"Willich told me after the battle that he understood from the
first that we were to storm the ridge, and for that reason made no halt
at the foot of it."
These quotes show that those many authors who insist that the
charge took place spontaneously didn't do their homework. It wasn't
necessary that all brigade commanders be in on the plot. If just a
couple of them took the lead, the rest would, and did, follow.
So who gave them this order? Granger certainly had the opportunity,
although Thomas could have quietly sent any one of his aids to a few
key commanders waiting in front of Orchard Knob. We will probably never
know, but then we can't know everything and don't need to. Somehow
Thomas acted to insure that the loss of life of the men under his
command was kept to a minimum.
We do know that Grant did not give the order. His reaction to the charge up the ridge, described as everything from mild surprise to cursing and rage, proves that he decidedly did not want the charge to continue up the ridge. Grant had shown already at Belmont, Ft. Donelson, Shiloh, Champion's Hill, and Vicksburg, and would do so again at Cold Harbor and Petersburg, that he was not particularly motivated by a desire to keep as many of his men alive as possible in battle. The main reason for his displeasure, aside from his habitual reaction to any perceived infraction of his orders, was the fear that the charge might succeed, that not Sherman, but Thomas or, even worse, Hooker, would get the credit for winning the battle.
The evening after the battle, in a passing moment of candor Grant
said, according to Hooker, "Damn the battle! I had nothing to do with
it" (ar55_340). True, Hooker was not the most disinterested of
observers, but Grant may well have said that or something similar,
especially in the light of the fact that Thomas had challenged Grant's
authority at least twice before the 25th, namely on 7 Nov. when Grant
ordered for the following day an improvised attack against the ridge,
and again on the 23rd when he ordered Thomas to carry out a limited
reconnaissance which Thomas changed into the assault on Orchard Knob.
Afterward, Grant, Sherman, Halleck, and Dana did the next best thing and rewrote the history of the battle, making Sherman's failure into a successful holding operation, turning Thomas's charge into a miracle (i.e. one-time fluke), and negating almost altogether Hooker's turning of Bragg's left flank. According to Grant's report Hooker "didn't meet the expectations placed in him" and he simply let Hooker disappear into some sort of black hole in Rossville for several hours.
A couple of months later, Thomas' Army of the Cumberland was incorporated into Sherman's army group, and Sherman, as a reward for his stellar performance, was put in charge of the drive toward Atlanta (see the Hundred Days campaign). It didn't hurt him that his brother was US senator from Ohio, nor that his adoptive father and father-in-law was a former senator and one of Lincoln's backers at the 1860 nominating convention. No other general on either side had such connections.
* Burnside did a decent job
at Knoxville, paid Longstreet back for Fredericksburg.
** According to local historian and head of the Missionary Ridge neighborhood association Bob Graham, this first detached hill of Missionary Ridge received from soldiers its name "Billy the Goat Hill" after the battle. Note also that the last cadet in ranking in a class at West Point was called the "goat." What were the soldiers trying to tell us?
1. Thomas US
2. Grant US
3. Hooker US
4. Sherman US
5. Osterhaus US
6. Willich US
7. Halleck US
8. Bragg CS plus correspondence
9. Cleburne CS
10. Stewart CS - the key to the mystery
11. Opposing forces US, CS
Other articles on this battle:
1. "Politics in the Union Army at the Battle for Chattanooga" by Bob Redman
2. Thomas Van Horne on the battle of Chattanooga
3. excerpts from Comments on General Grant's "Chattanooga" by William F. Smith, brevet Major-General, USA.
4. The Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga
by Joseph S. Fullerton, brevet Brig.-General
5. The Battle of Missionary Ridge
by Thomas J. Wood, Late Major General United States Volunteers
|9:20 am||Hooker signals readiness.||Thomas nudges Grant about Hooker (speculation).||Stevenson’s troops from Lookout Mountain march all night long north on ridge, tell their story en route.|
|9:30 am||Hooker receives order.||Thomas sends Hooker order to move via flagmen.||Stevenson’s troops begin to take position next to Cleburne.|
|Hooker’s troops move, advance units already in valley.||.||Corse starts frontal attacks against Swett’s battery on Tunnel Hill.|
|Bragg reports Hooker’s movement across valley.||Loomis starts attack toward tunnel|
|Bragg receives report of activity at Chattanooga Creek. Hooker sends Osterhaus across on “stringers”.||.||Bushbeck joins Loomis.|
|1:35 pm||Hooker announces he needs one more hour to complete bridge. Osterhaus secures Rossville Gap||Riflefire heard as Osterhaus attacks Rossville Gap. This is also heard up on the ridge.||Mathies attacks Tunnel Hill from west.|
|Hooker’s cannons cross Chattanooga creek and begin firing. Osterhaus secures Rossville Gap.||Grant returns, sees Sherman’s troops fleeing from Tunnel Hill. Cannon fire from south audible. Grant suggests that Thomas move troops forward to the rifle pits and stop.||Sherman’s final attack against Cleburne is repulsed, Cleburne counter-attacks, takes prisoners. Sherman calls it quits, does not tell Grant.|
|3:00 pm||Cruft and Hooker drive Clayton. Osterhaus moves along rear of ridge without opposition. Impossible that Stewart is unaware of this movement.||Sound of battle from Hooker’s direction intensifies. Grant sharply issues his verbal order for Thomas’s men to move to the rifle pits and stop.||.|
|Geary moves against Stewart from southwest. Osterhaus continues north toward center, still no opposition.||Battle noise moves further north. Grant again issues the verbal order for Thomas’ men to move to the rifle pits and stop.||.|
|3:40 pm||Panicked troops from Clayton and Stewart units flee towards center and down western side of ridge.||The 6 cannon on Orchard Knob fire in succession to initiate the advance of Thomas’s 4 divisions toward the ridge.||.|
|4:00 pm||Cruft and Hooker drive Stewart, Johnson advances up ridge from west.||Thomas' troops engage Confederates in rifle pits. Some continue up ridge, the others follow, Grant rages. Panic intensifies in Bragg’s center.||.|
|4:50 pm||Osterhaus nears Crutchfield Rd. behind Bragg’s headquarters.||Willich’s division breaks through at Sharp’s spur.||.|
|5:00 pm||Stewart’s division collapses. Osterhaus takes 2000 prisoners.||.||Sherman apprised by Grant that Thomas has “carried the hill”: “Now is your time to attack…”. Sherman’s reply to Grant missing in records.|
|6:00 pm||Osterhaus meets Johnson’s troops on top of ridge.||Johnson’s troops almost shoot Osterhaus.||.|
|Hooker bivouacs on ridge, troops celebrate.||Sheridan gets some men killed pursuing in darkness.||Cleburne forms rear guard, Sherman does not pursue.|
1) Fact: The morning of the 25th there was communication between Thomas on Orchard Knob and signalmen on Lookout Mountain because this was how Thomas sent his orders to Hooker at about 9:30 once the fog had lifted. Is it possible that these signalmen, who were in a perfect position to observe Hooker's movements across the valley, did not keep Thomas informed of Hooker's further progress that day? Is it possible that Grant, no more than 20 yards away from Thomas the afternoon of the 25th (Orchard Knob wouldn't permit a greater distance), was not also so informed?
2) Fact: Thomas in his official report of the battle states that on 24 Nov. Hooker "reported by telegraph" that he had defeated the Confederate defenders at Craven's house on Lookout Mountain. Hooker’s battle report also mentions telegraph communications. Who cut the telegraph wire on the 25th?
3) Fact: Hooker was known to be extraordinarily ambitious. He was especially motivated to wipe out the stain of Chancerllorsville. What then held Hooker back at the foot of Lookout Mountain the morning of 25 Nov. until 10 AM?
4) Fact: Stewart’s artillery started firing at Hooker sometime around 1 PM. Hooker got his artillery across Chattanooga Creek around 2 PM and started using it then (at the very latest) against Stewart. Is it possible that Thomas and Grant, Bragg and Breckinridge, Confederate grunt up on the ridge and Union grunt down on the flats didn't hear this cannonfire and the other attendant racket?
5) Facts: the western face of the ridge was mostly cleared for field of fire, the upper Chattanooga valley was a mixture of cultivated fields and forest, and there were no leaves on the hardwood trees. Bragg reports that he saw at about 11 AM "masses of troops coming from Lookout" and heading "toward his front”. Could the Confederate grunts up on the ridge not also see Hooker proceeding unopposed across the valley toward their road back home?
6) Fact as reported by Sword: August Willich, a German born and Prussian trained general officer of Wood's division situated right in front of Orchard Knob, stated afterward that he had understood that, according to his orders, he was to "advance" after reaching the rifle pits. Is it likely that such a person would have misconstrued the order as issued by Grant? Did he then receive a different order, and if so, from whom and through whom?
7) Fact as reported by Cozzens: After Grant's second verbal order to Thomas to have his men move to the rifle pits and stop, Thomas and Gordon Granger (the man who had saved Thomas at Chickamauga) conferred alone for a few minutes, whereupon Granger "went off." What did Thomas say to Granger?
8) Fact as reported by Cozzens: After Grant's second order to take the rifle pits, still nothing happened, whereupon Grant ordered the movement a third time, and the machinery started into motion. Where did Granger go and to whom did he talk between Grant's 2nd and 3rd enunciations of the order?
9) Fact: Grant's order for Thomas to have his men "demonstrate" toward the rifle pits and stop would have, if rigidly adhered to, exposed these troops to grave danger because of the plunging fire. Was Thomas the sort of man to not intervene in some way in order to mitigate the effect of such an order?
10) Fact: Many writers call this order on the part of Grant "foolish" or "ill-considered" or even "quixotic". Was not Grant anything but foolish, and did he not normally reflect on his orders, and isn't the word quixotic an unusual term to describe the behavior of the mature general Grant?
11) Observation: There is an amazing congruity between the chronology of Hooker's progress against the Confederate left flank and the chronology of Grant's repeated ordering of Thomas to move against the rifle pits AND STOP. Is this a coincidence?
12) Fact: According to Sword, some of the official communications of the afternoon of 25 Nov. between Grant and Sherman are missing from the Official Records. Is it possible they were removed, and if so, by whom?
13) Fact as reported by many of the officers of Stewart's Divisions' battle reports (Broadfoot’s Supplements to the OR) show that the Confederate retreat began first in his division under the attack from Hooker, before Tucker gave way in the center. Why does Grant state in his battle report, and then again in his Memoirs, that Hooker was held up for four hours at Chattanooga Creek and did not meet the expectations placed in him?
14) Fact: From any elevated point within the former Federal perimeter, one can clearly see the two notches (through which pass today Campbell St. and Lightfoot Mill Road) delineating the northern and southern limits of Tunnel Hill. Why couldn't Sherman, who in his “Memoirs” reports having gone to Ft. Wood, see this?
15) Fact: From various points along Hixon Pike on the northern bank of the Tennessee, you can see the the depressions marking the limits of Tunnel Hill. On 7 Nov. from a hill in that area opposite the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek (probably today’s River Hills) Baldy Smith and Thomas did see the campfires on Missionary Ridge. What did Sherman see the afternoon of 16 Nov. when he made his reconnaissance outing to this same spot?
16) Fact: Sherman cited "wrongly laid-down maps" which led him to think that Billygoat Hill was Tunnel Hill. Did such defective maps exist, and, if so, to what extent were they defective? Why did Sherman not include the defective maps in his battle report?
17) Fact: Thomas had the most extensive “secret service” of any army of the war. Many specialists were employed in this service, including professional topographical engineers who provided information for Thomas’s famous topographical books. What were these engineers doing during the 2 months between the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga?
18) Fact: Grant in his orders to Thomas of 18 Nov. complains obliquely about "not being provided with a map giving names of roads, spurs of the mountains, and other places". Why would Grant, after having spent 3 weeks at Chattanooga, admit to any discerning reader of his order that he couldn't get the information he wanted from Thomas? Was he only trying to block for Sherman?
19) Fact according to Baldy Smith, Thomas’s chief engineer: There were scientifically prepared and accurate survey maps of the area in Thomas's HQ. Why didn't Grant ask for a more detailed map if he wanted one, and if he did ask, why didn't he get one? Why would he begin a battle without one which satisfied him?20) Observation: Grant's behavior in Chattanooga was inconsistent with the common description of him as being modest and unassuming. His subsequent battle report was inconsistent with the common description of him as being honest. Was not Grant as ambitious and occasionally as unscrupulous as many another top commander in this and any other war?
Originally published in 1887 by Robert Underwood Johnson and
Clough Buell, editors of the "The Century Magazine".
[scanned, reformatted and corrected; maps and illustrations are
excerpt from COMMENTS ON GENERAL GRANT'S
BY WILLIAM FARRAR SMITH BREVET MAJOR-GENERAL, U. S. A.
ON the 3d of October, 1863, having reported to General Rosecrans at Chattanooga, I was assigned the duty of chief engineer of the Army of the Cumberland, and it devolved on me as a part of my duty, first, to lay out and construct the fortifications so as to enable a comparatively small force to hold the place, and, secondly, to look out for the communications by which the army was supplied. In the performance of that duty I was actively engaged in building boats and material for bridges, and was studying earnestly to find some way of restoring our short line of communications lost by the giving up of Lookout Mountain and Valley. I found a most excellent company of volunteers styled "Michigan Engineers and Mechanics," commanded by Captain Perrin V. Fox. Before my arrival they had set up a saw-mill, and were engaged in making boats and flooring, etc., for military bridges. In pursuance of the paramount necessity of finding some way of shortening our distance to the railroad at Bridgeport, on the 19th of October I started to make a personal examination. of the north side of the Tennessee River below Chattanooga. The object was to find some point on the south side, the holding of which would secure to us the river from Bridgeport through the Raccoon Mountain, and the short road in the valley from there to Chattanooga. On returning unsuccessful in my search, to within about five miles of Chattanooga, I saw before me on a bluff, washed by the river, an earth-work in which was posted a field-battery commanding a road through a break in the hills on the opposite side, where had formerly been established a ferry, known as Brown's Ferry. The place struck me as worthy of examination, and learning from the commanding officer of the battery that there was a tacit agreement that the pickets should not fire on each other, I left my horse in the battery and went down to the water's edge. There I spent an hour, studying the character of the hills, the roadway through the gorge, and marking and estimating the distances to the fires of the picket reserves of the enemy. I then rode back to headquarters, to find that during my absence General Rosecrans had been relieved from duty there and General George H. Thomas put in command of the army.
The next morning, October 20th, General Thomas asked me what length of bridge material I had not in use, and directed me to throw another bridge across the river at Chattanooga. I asked him not to give the order till he had heard my report of my examination of the day before and had looked into a plan I had to propose for opening the river to our steamboats, of which there were two then partly disabled, but which had not been repaired by me lest they should eventually serve the purpose of the enemy. After a discussion which I think was finished in two days, and by the 22d of October, he gave his approval to the plan, and I went to work at once, he giving the necessary orders for the cooperating movements from Bridgeport, which were a vital part of the operations. After that there was but one discussion between General Thomas and my self, which was as to the relative time at which Hooker's column was to move from Bridgeport. That took place after the arrival of General Grant at Chattanooga, all others having been concluded before General Grant made his appearance.
When Grant had been but about twelve hours in Chattanooga, and before he had even started on his trip to Brown's Ferry, Mr. Dana had sketched to the Secretary of War the substance of the whole movement.* That General Thomas had, after General Grant's arrival, to put before him the plan which he had determined upon, and that General Grant's approval was necessary, and that it was proper for him to go to Brown's Ferry at once to see the position before he gave his approval to it, cannot be gainsaid, but there is not the slightest reason for doubting that Thomas would have made the same move with the same men and with the same results, had General Grant been in Louisville, from which place he had telegraphed the order putting Thomas in command of the Army of the Cumberland. General Grant does not overstate the importance of this movement to the army. It gave at once to the army food and clothing, with forage for the animals which were yet alive, and last, but not least, ammunition, of which General Grant says the Union army had "not enough for a day's fighting." From being an army in a condition in which it could not retreat, it became an army which, so soon as it was reenforced by the troops with Sherman, assumed the offensive, and under the leadership of General Grant helped to win the battle of Missionary Ridge, inflicting a mortal blow upon the army under Bragg. General Thomas was a man who observed strictly the proprieties and courtesies of military life; and had the plan "for opening the route to Bridgeport," and the orders necessary for its execution, emanated from General Grant, Thomas would hardly have noticed the subject in the following words:
"To Brigadier-General W. F. Smith, chief engineer, should be accorded great praise for the ingenuity which conceived, and the ability which executed, the movement at Brown's Ferry. The preparations were all made in secrecy, as was also the boat expedition which passed under the overhanging cliffs of Lookout, so much so that when the bridge was thrown at Brown's
* Telegrams of Dana to Stanton, October 23d and 24th, 10 A. M.
Ferry, on the morning of the 27th, the surprise was as great to the army within Chattanooga as it was to the army besieging it from without." [From the report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War.]
With some hesitation I will give a copy of a letter from General Grant to the Secretary of War, which, though speaking of me in possibly much too high terms, is yet important in this connection from its date. It was written two weeks after the opening of the river, and two weeks before the battle of Missionary Ridge. It could hardly have been written from General Grant's previous knowledge of me, for he says he "had no recollection of having met me, after my [his] graduation, in 1843, up to this time,"--the night of his arrival at Chattanooga, -- October 23d, 1863. It could not have been written because I had shown zeal in establishing a saw-mill, making a steamboat or any amount of bridge material, nor yet because I had commanded two brigades in a surprise attack at Brown's Ferry. No other movement than the successful opening of the river had been made from the time of General Grant's arrival to the date of this letter. Was it possible that it rose from any other reason than that General Grant, appreciating fully the great and prompt change in the condition of the army, arising from the opening of the river, had perhaps over-estimated the ability of the one who within his own knowledge had planned the movement? Circumstances afterward occurred to change the relations between General Grant and myself, to which it is not necessary to refer, and his opinion of me may and probably did afterward undergo a change, but at the time at which the letter was written there was some striking reason which produced it:
"HEADQUARTERS, MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISS.
CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE, NOVEMBER 12th, 1863.
HON. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
SIR: I would respectfully recommend that Brigadier-General William F. Smith be placed first on the list for promotion to the rank of major-general. He is possessed of one of the clearest military heads in the army is very practical and industrious-no man in the service is better qualified than he for our largest commands.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U. S. GRANT, Major-General.
Signed, GEO. K. LEET, Assistant Adjutant-General."
Not only is it due to the truth of history that this evidence of General Grant's military appreciation of the movement on Brown's Ferry should appear, but it also establishes his generosity of character in giving credit where he felt it to be due.
At some future time I may have an opportunity of doing justice to the memory of General George H, Thomas, whose comparatively early death was so great a loss to the country. The civil war developed no higher character than his, viewed in all its aspects, either as soldier or civilian. There are no clouds on it to mar the brightness of his glory.
General Grant's narrative [see p. 679] is in text and inference so unjust to the memory of the late Major-General George H. Thomas that it is proper to make a statement of facts taken in the main from official papers.
In November, 1863, Mr. Charles A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, was at Chattanooga. Under date of November 5th 11 A.M., he telegraphed to Mr. Stanton:
"... Grant and Thomas considering plan proposed by W. F. Smith to advance our pickets on the left to Citico Creek, about a mile in front of the position they have occupied from the first, and to threaten the seizure of the north-west extremity of Missionary Ridge. This, taken in connection with our present demonstration in Lookout Valley, will compel them to concentrate and come back from Burnside to fight here."
It is perhaps well to explain here that at that time no plan for
future operations had been discussed. On the supposition that Sherman's
forces would be united with those of Thomas in front of Chattanooga,
more space than we occupied was necessary for the proper encampments
and probable developments for a battle. This made a move to the front
at that time for the acquisition of more ground a proper one under all
circumstances. It will be seen that in the plan proposed by me, as
chief engineer, only a threat to seize the north-west end of
Missionary Ridge was intended, and with the idea that such a feint
might force the recall of Longstreet. I think I may safely state that I
did not propose at that time, in view of the condition of the Army of
the Cumberland, to suggest anything that would bring on a general
battle unless under the guns of our forts at Chattanooga.
The next telegram to Secretary Stanton referring to this move is dated November 7th at 10 A. M. and states:
"Before receiving this information [report of a rebel deserter] Grant had ordered Thomas to execute the movement on Citico Creek which I reported on the 5th as proposed by Smith. Thomas, who rather preferred an attempt on Lookout Mountain, desired to postpone the operation until Sherman should come up, but Grant has decided that for the sake of Burnside the attack must be made at once, and I presume the advance on Citico will take place to-morrow evening, and that on Missionary Ridge immediately afterward. If successful, this operation will divide Bragg's forces in Chattanooga valley from those in the valley of the Chickamauga, and will compel him either to retreat, leaving the rail road communication of Cheatham and Longstreet exposed, or else fight a battle with his diminished forces."
From General Grant's order of November 7th the following extract is made:
"…I deem the best movement to attract the enemy to be an attack on the north end of Missionary Ridge with all the force you can bring to bear against it, and, when that is carried, to threaten, and even attack if possible, the enemy's line of communication between Dalton and Cleveland…The movement should not be made one moment later than to-morrow morning."
It will be seen from this order that the plan proposed by me had been entirely changed, for while I had proposed only to threaten the seizure of the north-west end of Missionary Ridge, General Grant proposed "to attack the enemy " by carrying the ridge, and then "to threaten, and even attack if possible," the lines of communication; that is, to bring on a general ngagement. When it is remembered that eighteen days after this Sherman with six perfectly appointed divisions failed to carry this same point of Missionary Ridge, at a time when Thomas with four divisions
stood threatening Bragg's center, and Hooker with nearly three divisions was driving in Bragg's left flank (Bragg having no more strength than on the 7th), it will not be a matter of surprise that the order staggered Thomas. After the order had been issued I sought a conversation with General Grant for the purpose of inducing a modification, and began by asking General Grant what was the plan proposed by General Thomas for carrying out the order. To this General Grant replied, "When I have sufficient confidence in a general to leave him in command of an army, I have enough confidence in him to leave his plans to himself." This answer seemed to cut off all discussion, and nothing more was said on the subject.
Shortly after that General Thomas sent for me and under the impression that the order related to my plan, referred to in Mr. Dana's dispatch of November 5th, said, "If I attempt to carry out the order I have received, my army will be terribly beaten. You must go and get the order revoked." Without replying to this I asked General Thomas to go up the river with me, and we set out directly, going to a hill opposite the mouth of the South Chickamauga Creek, where we spent an hour or more. We looked carefully over the ground on which Thomas would have to operate, noted the extreme of Bragg's camp-fires on Missionary Ridge, and then, becoming convinced that Thomas with his force could not outflank Bragg's right without endangering our connection with Chattanooga, on our return I went directly to General Grant, and reported to him that after a careful reconnoissance of the ground I was of the decided opinion that no movement could be made in that direction until the arrival of Sherman's forces. That very evening the order for Thomas to move was countermanded, and no further effort to aid Burnside was attempted till the Army of the Tennessee had joined the army at Chattanooga. On the 8th of November, at 11 A.M., Mr. Dana sent to the Secretary of War the following dispatch:
"Reconnoissance of Citico Creek and head of Missionary Ridge made yesterday by Thomas, Smith, and Brannan from the heights opposite on the north of the Tennessee proved Smith's plan for attack impracticable. The creek and country are wrongly laid down on our maps, and no operation for the seizure of Missionary Ridge can be undertaken with the force which Thomas can now command for the purpose. That force cannot by an effort be made to exceed eighteen thousand men."
General Grant in his official report says:
"Directions were given for a movement against Missionary Ridge, with a view to carrying it,...of which I informed Burnside on the 7th of November by telegraph. After a thorough reconnoissance of the ground, however, it was deemed utterly impracticable to make the move until Sherman could get up, because of the inadequacy of our forces and the condition of the animals then at Chattanooga."
The writer of an article entitled "General Grant" in "The Century" for May, 1885, says of Chattanooga: "Few battles in any war have ever been fought so strictly according to the plan. This battle was fought as nearly according to the plan laid down in advance as any recorded in the schools." Holding at the time the position of chief engineer of the Army of the Cumberland under General Thomas, and being at the same time chief engineer of the Military Division of the Mississippi under General Grant, it was absolutely necessary that I should know the plan to be able to direct the engineering operations. Let me compare the original plan as "laid down in advance" with a sketch of the battle as fought.
The original plan of the battle of Chattanooga was to turn Bragg's right flank on Missionary Ridge, thereby throwing his army away from its base and natural line of retreat. This, the first thing to be done, was confided to Sherman, and the plan was not adopted till after Sherman had carefully examined the situation and asserted that he could do the work assigned to him. Thomas was to hold the center and right of our front, to cooperate with Sherman, and attack when the proper time arrived.
The preliminary movements were simple. Sherman was to effect a lodgment on the left bank of the Tennessee River, just below the mouth of the South Chickamauga Creek. This was to be done by landing a brigade of troops from the boats, which were to be used in the bridge to be thrown at that point across the Tennessee for the crossing of Sherman's army. One division of Sherman's army was to march up the Lookout Valley, on the extreme right of our operations, and threaten a pass in Lookout Mountain, ostensibly to turn Bragg's left flank. The march was to be made in daylight, in sight of the enemy, and after dark the division was to retrace its steps, cross the Tennessee at Brown's Ferry, and join the main body of Sherman's force, which was to be massed during the night preceding the intended attack at the point where the bridge was to be laid. Hooker with his small force was to hold Lookout Valley and threaten Lookout Mountain at the point where it strikes the Tennessee. This general plan was filled in with all necessary details, embracing all the initial movements of the whole force under Grant. At the very outset began the changes in this plan. The division which made the threat against Bragg's left flank on returning found the bridge at Brown's Ferry unpassable; and as it could not join Sherman, it was turned over to Hooker, who was ordered, with his command thus strengthened, to assault the works on his front on Lookout Mountain. This was a most decided change from the plan "laid down in advance."
On the evening of the first day the results could be summed up as follows: Sherman had crossed the Tennessee River at the point selected, but had not turned Bragg's right flank. Thomas had drawn out the Army of the Cumberland facing Missionary Ridge, had connected with Sherman, but had no fighting other than skirmishing varied by some artillery practice. Hooker had carried Lookout Mountain after a fight which has been celebrated in song as "the battle above the clouds." This victory of Hooker's compelled Bragg to withdraw his troops from the Chattanooga Valley, and retreat or concentrate for a battle on
Missionary Ridge. On the morning of the second day Hooker was ordered by Thomas to march for and carry the Rossville Gap in Missionary Ridge, and as soon as that was done to send an aide or courier to him, in order that he might then make the assault of the " Ridge" with the Army of the Cumberland. Sherman with severe fighting continued his efforts to reach the crest of Missionary Ridge. As the day wore on, and no news came from Hooker, Thomas grew anxious, but could give no order to assault the works on his front till one at least of the enemy's flanks had been turned.
Finally, in the afternoon, General Grant sent orders directly to the division commanders of the Army of the Cumberland to move forward and carry the rifle-pits in their front at the base of Missionary Ridge. This was very easily done, and after capturing the rifle-pits the soldiers, seeing that they could not remain there under the fire from the crest of the ridge, and having no intention of giving up any ground won by them, demanded to be led up the hill to storm the works on the crest, which was successfully done, and Bragg's headquarters were in their possession just before the sun went down on the second day of the battle. This assault was, of course, the crisis of the whole battle, and the successful carrying of Missionary Ridge was doubtless due in a measure to the position of Sherman and the threatening movement of Hooker.
The battle was then ended and nothing left but a retreat by one and a pursuit by the other opposing general. A condensed statement of the history of the original plan and the battle of Chattanooga as fought is this: The original plan contemplated the turning of Bragg's right flank, which was not done. The secondary plan of Thomas looked toward following up the success of Hooker at Lookout Mountain by turning the left flank of Bragg, and then an attack by Thomas along his entire front. The Rossville Gap was not carried in time to be of more than secondary importance in the battle.
The assault on the center before either flank was turned was never
seriously contemplated, and was made without plan, without orders, and
as above stated.
Page 719 - Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol III
excerpt from THE ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND
BY JOSEPH S. FULLERTON, BREVET BRIG.-GEN., LT. S. V., ASSISTANT ADJ.-GEN., 4TH ARMY CORPS.
AFTER it became apparent that Bragg would not assault Rosecrans at Chattanooga, it was thought that he might cross the river above, threaten our lines of communication with the rear, and thus repeat, on the north side, the manoeuvre of Rosecrans. Longstreet advised such a movement, but Bragg preferred to adopt the plan of starving us out.
On September 24th a brigade that had held the point of Lookout Mountain was withdrawn. Bragg at once took possession, and sent Longstreet's corps over into Lookout Valley. He also extended his pickets down the south bank of the river, nearly to Bridgeport, our base of supplies. This cut us off from the river and the roads on its north and south banks, and left us but one open road to the rear. Over this, for a time, we might haul supplies; but we were in a state of semi-siege.
The trees within our lines were soon cut down for use in the fortifications, or for fuel. There had been but little rain since early in July. The earth was parched and blistered. Leaves had dried up on the trees, and all the grass had withered and turned gray. The moving of men and animals stirred up blinding clouds of dust which every breeze sent whirling through the camps. With the first week in October came the rains, and it was a question whether the deep and sticky mud was not more objectionable than the dust.
Our whole army was obliged to depend for every ration and every pound of forage on the mules that hauled the army wagons over the sixty miles of horrible road from Bridgeport. Some of the hills along this route were so steep that a heavy wagon was almost a load going up, and, now that the rains were falling, that part of it in the little valleys had become so soft and was so cut up that a lightly loaded wagon would sink up to the axles.
In the third week of the occupation of Chattanooga, no one, from commanding general down, any longer expected or even thought of an attack. Missionary Ridge, summit, side, and base, was furrowed with rifle-pits and studded with batteries. The little valley of Chattanooga was dammed up with earth-works; and Lookout Mountain, now a mighty fortress, lifted to tho low hanging clouds its threatening head crowned with siege-guns. The two lines of pickets were not more than three hundred yards apart; but, by common consent, there was no picket firing. On a still night, standing on the picket line, one could hear the old negro song "Dixie," adopted by the Confederates as their national music; while from our line came, in swelling response, "Hail Columbia" and "The Star-spangled Banner." With a glass Bragg's headquarters on Missionary Ridge, even the movement of his officers and orderlies, could be seen; while from the ridge or Lookout Mountain our whole camp was clearly in view. By daylight our troops could be counted, our reveille heard, our roll-call noted, our scanty meals of half rations seen--the last without envy. And we were not only heard and seen, but the enemy's signal-flag on Lookout talked, over our heads, with the signal-flag on Missionary Ridge.
The fall rains were beginning, and hauling was becoming each day more difficult. Ten thousand dead mules walled the sides of the road from Bridgeport to Chattanooga. In Chattanooga the men were on less than half rations. Guards stood at the troughs of artillery horses to keep the soldiers from taking the scant supply of corn allowed these starving animals. Many horses died of starvation, and most of those that survived grew too weak for use in pulling the lightest guns. Men followed the wagons as they came over the river, picking up the grains of corn and bits of crackers that fell to the ground. Yet there was no murmur of discontent.
Ever since Longstreet got into Lookout Valley, Rosecrans had been making preparation to drive him out. A small stern-wheel steamboat was built at Bridgeport; a captured ferry-boat, reconstructed, was made an available transport; and material for boats and pontoons, or either, with stringers and flooring for bridges, was prepared at Chattanooga as rapidly as possible, at an improvised saw-mill. But the plan finally adapted was conceived and worked out by General William F. Smith, Chief Engineer of the Army of the
Cumberland. On the 20th of October, after having been fully matured, it was submitted, and was warmly approved by Thomas, who had then succeeded Rosecrans, and who at once gave orders to General Smith, General Hooker, and others to carry it into execution with all possible expedition. General Grant reached Chattanooga the evening of the 23d. General Smith's plan was explained to him, and he heartily approved it and directed its execution.
On November lath General Sherman reached Chattanooga in advance of his troops. General Grant's plan, in brief, now was to turn Bragg's right. He selected his old army--the Army of the Tennessee, under Sherman--to open the battle, to make the grand attack, and to carry Missionary Ridge as far as Tunnel Hill. The Army of the Cumberland was simply to get into position and cooperate.
No battle-field in our war, probably none in history, where large armies were engaged, was so spectacular or so well fitted for a display of soldierly courage and daring as the amphitheater of Chattanooga. Late on the night of November 22d a sentinel who had deserted from the enemy was
brought to General Sheridan, and informed him that Bragg's baggage was being reduced and that he was about to fall back. On account of these indications and reports, General Grant decided not to wait longer for General Sherman's troops to come up, but to find out whether Bragg was in fact withdrawing, and, if so, to attack him at once. Therefore at 11 o'clock on the morning of the 23d, he directed General Thomas to "drive in the enemy's pickets," and feel his lines for the purpose of finding out whether he still held in force. Thus Grant was about to change his plans. He was compelled to depart from his original purpose, and was obliged to call on troops of the Army of the Cumberland to make the first offensive movement.
General Thomas ordered General Granger, commanding the Fourth Corps, to throw one division forward in the direction of Orchard Knob, with a second division in support, to discover if the enemy still remained near his old camp.
Orchard Knob is a rough, steep hill, one hundred feet high, covered with a growth of small timber, rising abruptly from the Chattanooga Valley, and lying about half-way between our outer pits and the breastworks of logs and stones. At its western base, and extending for a mile beyond, both north and south of the hill, were other rifle-pits, hid in part by a heavy belt of timber that extended about a quarter of a mile from the foot of the hill into the plain. Between this belt of timber and our lines were open fields, in which there was not a tree, fence, or other obstruction, save the bed of the East Tennessee Railroad. On the plain were hundreds of little mounds, thrown up by our own and the enemy's pickets, giving it the appearance of an overgrown prairie-dog village.
At noon General Grant, Assistant Secretary of War Dana, General Thomas, Generals Hooker Granger, Howard, and other distinguished officers stood on the parapet of Fort Wood facing Orchard Knob, waiting to see this initial movement,--the overture to the battle of Chattanooga. At half past twelve, Wood's division, supported by Sheridan, marched out on the plain in front of the fort. It was an inspiriting sight. Flags were flying ; the quick, earnest steps of thousands beat equal time. The sharp commands of hundreds of company officers, the sound of the drums, the ringing notes of the bugle, companies wheeling and countermarching and regiments getting into line, the bright sun lighting up ten thousand polished bayonets till they glistened and flashed like a flying shower of electric sparks,-- all looked like preparations for a peaceful pageant, rather than for the bloody work of death.
Groups of officers on Missionary Ridge looked down through their glasses, and the enemy's pickets, but a few hundred yards away, came out of their pits and stood idly looking on, unconcernedly viewing what they supposed to be preparation s for a grand review. But at half-past one o'clock the advance was sounded. Instantly Wood's division, moving with the steadiness of a machine, started forward. Not a straggler or laggard was on the field, and, what was probably hardly ever before seen, drummers were marching with their companies, beating the charge. Now the enemy realized, for the first time, that it was not a review. His pickets fell back to their reserves. The reserves were quickly driven back to the main line. Firing opened from the enemy's advanced rifle-pits, followed by a tremendous roll of musketry and roar of artillery. Men were seen on the ground, dotting the field over which the line of battle had passed. Ambulances came hurrying back with the first of the wounded. Columns of puffy smoke arose from the Orchard Knob woods. A cheer, faint to those on the parapet of Fort Wood, indicated that the boys in blue were carrying the breastworks on the Knob! A sharp, short struggle, and the hill was ours.
About 4 o'clock in the afternoon of November 23d, when it became certain that Osterhaus, cut off by the breaking of the pontoon-bridge at Brown's Ferry, would be attached to Hooker's command, General Thomas directed Hooker to make a demonstration against Lookout Mountain the next morning, and, if the demonstration showed it could be carried, to proceed to take it. Later in the day, orders to the same effect came to General Hooker from General Grant. The success at Orchard Knob, and the breaking of the bridge, caused this radical change to be made in Grant's plans. Yet he still held to the chief feature which was to turn Bragg's right.
In the morning it had not been known in Chattanooga, in Sherman's army, or in Bragg's camp, that a battle was to be fought. Indeed, it was not definitely known even to General Grant; for Hooker was only ordered to make a demonstration, and, if this showed a good chance for success, then to make an attack. Soon after breakfast Sherman's men at the other end of the line, intent on the north end of Missionary Ridge, and Thomas's men in the center, fretting to be let loose from their intrenchments, were startled by the sound of
artillery and musketry firing in Lookout Valley. Surprise possessed the thousands who turned their anxious eyes toward the mountain. The hours slowly wore away; the roar of battle increased, as it came rolling around the point of the mountain, and the anxiety grew. A battle was being fought just before and above them. They could hear, but could not see how it was going. Finally, the wind, tossing about the clouds and mist, made a rift that for a few minutes opened a view of White House plateau. The enemy was seen to be in flight, and Hooker's men were in pursuit! Then went up a mighty cheer from the thirty thousand in the valley that was heard above the battle by their comrades on the mountain.
As the sun went down the clouds rolled away, and the night came on clear and cool. A grand sight was old Lookout that night.. Not two miles apart were the parallel camp-fires of the two armies, extending from the summit of the mountain to its base, looking like streams of burning lava, while in between, the flashes from the skirmishers' muskets glowed like giant fire-flies.
The next morning there was silence in Hooker's front. Before daylight eight adventurous, active volunteers from the 8th Kentucky Infantry scaled the palisades and ran up the Stars and Stripes. The enemy had stolen away in the night.
Although General Grant had twice changed his original plan, first in the movement from the center, then in the reconnoissance and resulting attack on Lookout Mountain, he still adhered to his purpose of turning Bragg's right, and made no change in the instructions given to General Sherman, except as to the time of attack. Every necessary preparation for crossing Sherman's troops had been made secretly, under direction of General W. F. Smith; 116 pontoons had been placed in North Chickamauga Creek, and in ravines near its mouth, and many wagon-loads of "balks" (stringers) and chess (flooring) had been hid near by. Before dark on the evening of November 23d General Sherman had his troops well massed and hid behind the hills on the north side of the river opposite the end of Missionary Ridge. After dark General Barnett, Chief of Artillery of the Army of the Cumberland, planted fifty-six guns on the low foot-hills on the north bank of the river, to cover Sherman's crossing and to protect the pontoon bridge when laid. Everything now being in readiness for the movement, at midnight General Giles A. Smith's brigade entered the pontoons, floated out of North Chickamauga Creek, and was rowed to the south bank of the river. Landing quietly, he surprised and captured the enemy's pickets, and secured a firm foothold. The pontoons were sent across the river, and with these and the small steamboat brought up from Chattanooga General Morgan L. Smith's and General John E. Smith's divisions were ferried over the river. As soon as these troops had been landed, work was commenced on the pontoon-bridge, which was skillfully laid under the supervision of General W. F. Smith. The bridge was 1350 feet in length, and was completed by 11 o'clock in the morning, when General Ewing's division and Sherman's artillery crossed. At 1 o'clock, just as Hooker was rounding the front of Lookout Mountain, the roar of his battle stirring the blood of the veterans of the Army of the Tennessee, General Sherman gave the command, "Forward!" At 3:30 General Sherman took the hill which was supposed to be the north end of the ridge, and soon afterward took another hill a little in advance, both separated by a deep depression from the heavily fortified Tunnel Hill, on which Bragg's right flank rested and which was Sherman's objective point.
None of the men of the Army of the Cumberland, who for nine weeks were buried in the trenches at Chattanooga, can ever forget the glorious night of the 24th of November. As the sun went down, the clouds rolled up the mountain, and the mist was blown out of the valley. Night came on clear, with the stars lighting up the heavens. But there followed a sight to cheer their hearts and thrill their souls. Away off to their right, and reaching skyward, Lookout Mountain was ablaze with the fires of Hooker's men, while off to their left, and reaching far above the valley, the north end of Missionary Ridge was aflame with the lights of Sherman's army. The great iron crescent that had, with threatening aspect, so long hung over them, was disappearing. The only thought that dampened their enthusiasm was that the enemy was being destroyed on the flanks, while they were tied down in the center, without a part in the victories. But late that night General Grant, thinking that General Sherman had carried Tunnel Hill, and acting in that belief, gave orders for the next day's battle. General Sherman was directed to attack the enemy at early dawn, Thomas to cooperate with him, and Hooker, to be ready to advance into Chattanooga Valley, to hold the road that zigzagged from the valley to the summit. Early the next morning, when General Grant learned that the ridge had not been carried as far as Tunnel Hill [italics mine], and that Lookout Mountain had been evacuated by the enemy, he suspended his orders, except those to Sherman, and directed Hooker to come down from the mountain, to carry the pass at Rossville, and then operate on Bragg's left and rear. Bragg's army was now concentrated on Missionary Ridge, and in the valley at the east foot. Cheatham's and Stevenson's divisions had been withdrawn from Lookout Mountain on the night of the 24th, and, marching all night, were seen at dawn the next morning moving along the summit of Missionary Ridge, on the way to reenforce Bragg's right. For several hours after daylight the flowing of this steady stream of troops continued.
Early in the morning of the 25th General Grant and General Thomas established their headquarters on Orchard Knob, a point from which the best view of the movements of the whole army could be had. At sunrise General Sherman commenced his attack, but after repeated assaults and severe fighting, it appearing to be impossible for General Sherman to take the enemy's works, operations ceased early in the afternoon.
Meanwhile Hooker was detained three hours at Chattanooga Creek, while a bridge that the
retreating enemy had burned was being rebuilt. As soon as he had taken Rossville, he moved against the south end of Missionary Ridge. The ridge was quickly carried, and, sweeping northward, Hooker soon came upon Stewart's division, posted on the summit, and behind the earth-works which the Army of the Cumberland had thrown up the day after Chickamauga. Cruft's division assaulted and carried the works, thus having the good fortune of retaking the works they themselves had constructed. It was by this time nearly sundown. Hooker reached the south end of the ridge too late in the day to relieve the pressure on Sherman, who was at the north end six miles off. Bragg's right had not been turned. Success had not followed Sherman's movement. The battle as planned had not been won.
Late on this memorable afternoon there was an accident--an accident like the charge at Balaklava; though, unlike this theme for poetry, it called for greater daring, and was attended by complete success, and yielded most important results, for it led to the complete shattering of the enemy's army, and drove him from the field. On Orchard Knob, and opposite the center of Missionary Ridge, were four divisions of the Army of the Cumberland. On the left was Baird's division; then Wood's and Sheridan's divisions occupying the lines which, two days before, they had taken in their magnificent advance; on the right was R. W. Johnson's division,--all under the personal command of Thomas. It was past 3 o'clock. General Sherman had ceased operations. General Hooker's advance had not yet been felt. The day was dying, and Bragg still held the ridge. If any movement to dislodge him was to be made that day it must be made at once. At half-past three o'clock an attack was ordered by General Grant. He had changed his plan of battle. At once orders were issued that at the firing, in rapid succession, of six guns on Orchard Knob, Thomas's whole line should instantaneously move forward, Sheridan's and Wood's divisions in the center, Sheridan to be supported on the right by Johnson, and Wood on the left by Baird. This demonstration was to be made to relieve the pressure on Sherman. The only order given was to move forward and take the rifle-pits at the foot of the ridge. In Sheridan's division the order was, "As soon as the signal is given, the whole line will advance, and you will take what is before you."
Between Orchard Knob and Missionary Ridge was a valley, partly covered with a small growth of timber. It was wooded in front of the right of Baird's and of the whole of Wood's division. In front, of Sheridan's and Johnson's it had been
almost entirely cleared. At the foot of the ridge were heavy rifle-pits, which could be seen from Orchard Knob, and extending in front of them, for four and five hundred yards, the ground was covered with felled trees. There was a good plain for both direct and enfilading fire from the rifle-pits, and the approaches were commanded by the enemy's artillery. At this point the ridge is five or six hundred feet high. Its side, scored with gullies and showing but little timber, had a rough and bare appearance. Half-way up was another line of rifle-pits, and the summit was furrowed with additional lines and dotted over with epaulements, in which were placed fifty pieces of artillery. Directly in front of Orchard Knob, and on the summit of the ridge, in a small house, was Bragg's headquarters.
At twenty minutes before four the signal-guns were fired. Suddenly twenty thousand men rushed forward, moving in line of battle by brigades, with a double line of skirmishers in front, and closely followed by the reserves in mass. The big siege-guns in the Chattanooga forts roared above the light artillery and musketry in the valley. The enemy's rifle-pits were ablaze, and the whole ridge in our front had broken out like another Aetna. Not many minutes afterward our men were seen working through the felled trees and other obstructions. Though exposed to such a terrific fire, they neither fell back nor halted. By a bold and desperate push they broke through the works in several places and opened flank and reverse fires. The enemy was thrown into confusion, and took precipitate flight up the ridge. Many prisoners and a large number of small-arms were captured. The order of the commanding general had now been fully and most successfully carried out. But it did not go far enough to satisfy these brave men, who thought the time had come to finish the battle of Chickamauga. There was a halt of but a few minutes, to take breath and to re-form lines; then, with a sudden impulse, and without orders, all started up the ridge. Officers, catching their spirit, first followed, then led. There was no thought of supports or of protecting flanks, though the enemy's line could be seen, stretching on either side. *
As soon as this movement was seen from Orchard Knob, Grant quickly turned to Thomas, who stood by his side, and I heard him say angrily: "Thomas, who ordered those men up the ridge?" Thomas replied, in his usual slow, quiet manner: "I don't know; I did not." Then, addressing General Gordon Granger, he said, "Did you order them up, Granger?" "No," said Granger; "they started up without orders. When those fellows get started all hell can't stop them." General Grant said something to the effect that somebody would suffer if it did not turn out well, and then, turning, stoically watched the ridge. He gave no further orders.
As soon as Granger had replied to Thomas, he turned to me, his chief-of-staff, and said: "Ride at once to Wood, and then to Sheridan, and ask them if they ordered their men up the ridge, and tell them, if they can take it, to push ahead." As I was mounting, Granger added: "It is hot over there, and you may not get through. I shall send Captain Avery to Sheridan and other officers after both of you." As fast as my horse could carry me, I rode first to General Wood, and delivered the message. "I didn't order them up," said Wood; "they started up on their own account, and they are going up, too! Tell Granger, if we are supported, we will take and hold the ridge!" As soon as I reached General Wood, Captain Avery got to General Sheridan, and delivered his message. "I didn't order them up," said Sheridan, "but we are going to take the ridge!" He then asked Avery for his flask and waved it at a group of Confederate officers, standing just in front of Bragg's headquarters, with the salutation, "Here's at you!" At once two guns--the "Lady Breckinridge" and the "Lady Buckner" --in front of Bragg's headquarters were fired at Sheridan and the group of officers about him. One shell struck so near as to throw dirt over Sheridan and Avery. "Ah!" said the general, "that is ungenerous; I shall take those guns for that!" Before Sheridan received the message taken by Captain Avery, he had sent a staff-officer to Granger, to inquire whether "the order given to take the rifle-pits meant the rifle-pits at the base, or those on the top of the ridge." Granger told this officer that "the order given was to take those at the base. Conceiving this to be an order to fall back, the officer, on his way to Sheridan, gave it to General Wagner, commanding the Second Brigade of the division, which was then nearly half-way up the ridge. Wagner ordered his brigade back to the rifle-pits at the base, but it only remained there till Sheridan, seeing the mistake, ordered it forward. It again advanced under a terrific fire.
The men, fighting and climbing up the steep hill, sought the roads, ravines, and less rugged parts. The ground was so broken that it was impossible to keep a regular line of battle. At times their movements were in shape like the flight of migratory birds-sometimes in line, sometimes in mass, mostly in V-shaped groups, with the points toward the enemy. At these points regimental flags were flying, sometimes drooping as the bearers were shot, but never reaching the ground, for other brave hands were there to seize them. Sixty flags were advancing up the hill. Bragg was hurrying large bodies of men from his right to the center. They could be seen hastening along the ridge. Cheatham's division was being withdrawn from Sherman's front. Bragg and Hardee were at the center, urging their men to stand firm and drive back the advancing enemy, now so near the summit-indeed, so near that, the guns, which could not be sufficiently depressed to reach them, became useless. Artillerymen were lighting the
* The Confederate line from right to left, on the ridge was as follows : Hardee's corps on the right, Cleburne's division confronting Sherman ; Stevenson and Cheatham came next, the latter joining on Breckinridge's corps, which occupied the slope of the ridge, with outposts in trenches at the foot of the slope. Breckinridge's own division, under General Bate, was in the center, in front of Truman's house, Bragg's headquarters. [See map, p. 686.] Stewart's division, deployed, formed the left of the line.--EDITORS.
fuses of shells, and bowling them by hundreds down the hill. The critical moment arrived when the summit was just within reach. At six different points, and almost simultaneously, Sheridan's and Wood's divisions broke over the crest; --Sheridan's first, near Bragg's headquarters; and in a few minutes Sheridan was beside the guns that had been fired at him, and claiming them as captures of his division. Baird's division took the works on Wood's left almost immediately afterward; and then Johnson came up on Sheridan's right. The enemy's guns were turned upon those who still remained in the works, and soon all were in flight down the eastern slope. Baird got on the ridge just in time to change front and oppose a large body of the enemy moving down from Bragg's right to attack our left. After a sharp engagement, that lasted till dark, he drove the enemy back beyond a high point on the north, which he at once occupied. *
* Governor John A. Martin, of Kansas, colonel of the 8th Kansas Volunteers, of Willich's brigade, Wood's division, in a letter to General Fullerton, dated November 16th, 1886, describes the charge as follows:
"When the advance on Missionary Ridge was ordered, on November 25th, my regiment went out directly from Orchard Knob. General Willich, in communicating to me the orders received, distinctly stated that we were directed to take the line of Confederate works at the foot of the hill. We reached these works without serious difficulty, the losses being very small. Shortly after, we emerged from the woods into the open field, and were charging tho Confederate works on the double-quick; the soldiers there threw down their arms, and, holding up their hands, in token of surrender, jumped to our side. I had ridden my horse to this line, and, on reaching it, halted my regiment behind the enemy's intrenchments. Dismounting, I ran forward to the little huts that were built by the Confederates, on the plateau just back of their line, with a view of ascertaining what the situation was. I had seen, as soon as I reached the first line of works, as did every soldier in the command, that it was impossible for the troops to remain there long. The line was within easy range of the musketry on the summit of the ridge, and was raked by the artillery fire on the projecting points of the ridge on either side. Reaching the foot of the ridge east of the plateau, I found the position there fairly well protected,--that is, not so easily reached, either by the musketry or artillery of the enemy,--and I at once ran back to rear where my regiment had been halted. Just as I got there General Willich came up, and I said to him, 'We can't live here, and ought to go forward.' He gave me directions to move ahead, and I at once ordered my regiment forward. By that time, or about that time, it seemed to me that there was a simultaneous advance of many of the regiments in different parts of the line, and I got the impression that possibly orders had been communicated for an advance on the ridge, which I had not received; hence I hurried my regiment forward as rapidly as possible. When I reached the foot of the ridge again, with the regiment, my orderly came up with my horse, and I mounted it, as my adjutant did his. The advance to the ridge was as rapid as the nature of the ground would permit; and I think, from the position I occupied, I had a fair opportunity to see what was going on, not only immediately above me, but to the right and left. I was impressed with the idea, I know, that a sharp rivalry had sprung up between several regiments, including my own, as to which should reach the summit first. Another idea, I remember distinctly, which impressed me, was that the different regiments had assumed the form of a triangle or wedge-the advance point in nearly every case being the regimental battle-flag. I have always believed that my own regiment made the first break in the enemy's lines on the summit of Missionary Ridge; but the difference between the break thus made by the 8th Kansas amid the progress made by one or two regiments of Hazen's brigade on our right aud the 25th Illinois of our own brigade, was exceedingly brief.
"But that the first break in the enemy's lines was made in front of our division, I have not the slightest doubt. After we passed through the Confederate works, and while the men were rushing with great enthusiasm after the fleeing Confederates, who were running down the hill on the other side, my attention was directed to the right, where, at the point of a knob, I saw other troops were still engaged in a fierce struggle with the Confederates, who were yet in force behind their works; and while thus, for a moment, watching the progress of the fight to the right, a Confederate battery on a point to the left of our position was swung round, and poured a fire directly down our line. Immediately I ordered my bugler to sound the recall, and began forming all the troops I could gather at that point, with a view of moving to the left to clear the enemy's works in that direction. I had assembled probably a hundred men, when suddenly the whole Confederate line, both to the right and left, gave way before the furious attack of our troops, and was soon in full retreat through the woods and down the roads to the rear.
"I have stated hastily some of my impressions of the battle, but the principal point, which, in my judgment, should always be made prominent, is the fact that Missionary Ridge was fought without orders from the commander-in-chief. I remember, too, and this only confirms what I have said, that shortly after the battle was over General Granger rode along our lines, and said, in a joking way, to the troops, 'I am going to have you all court-martialed! You were ordered to take the works at the foot of the hill, and you have taken those on top! You have disobeyed orders, all of you, and you know that you ought to be court-martialed!' '' EDITORS.