Union Forces Commanded by:
Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
Confederate Forces Commanded by:
Gen. Braxton Bragg
*Killed and Wounded/ m=missing Conclusion: Union Victory
Reeling from defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, the Army of the Cumberland, commanded of Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, retreated to Chattanooga to regroup. On September 21, the Army of Tennessee advanced to Chattanooga and Gen. Braxton Bragg decided to employ a siege of the city instead of trying to fight it out with the Union army. With this Confederate advantage, Rosecrans feared losing the city. President Abraham Lincoln was aware of the importance of holding Chattanooga. He had said, "...taking Chattanooga is as important as taking Richmond."
Railroad lines from Chattanooga linked major distribution centers of the Confederacy; it was a key in Lincoln's plan to "divide and conquer" the South. Lincoln gave Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant command of all forces west of the Appalachian Mountains. Grant immediately relieved Rosecrans from command and appointed Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas as the new Union commander.
Bragg, in spite of advice from Brig. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest and others, had withheld his troops from destroying the retreating Union army after the Battle of Chickamauga. Already concerned with his actions as commander, Bragg's subordinates petitioned Richmond for him to be relieved of command. President Jefferson Davis visited the army in October. Being a personal friend of Bragg's, Davis responded to the subordinates by dismissing or reassigning them to other theaters. Bragg was left in command. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and a corps of 15,000 troops were sent to Knoxville to retake the city from Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. This took away a serious number of men that Bragg could ill afford to lose during the siege. On October 1, Bragg sent Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler and his cavalry on a raid to destroy Thomas's communication lines. The raid proved to be unsuccessful. **See Wheeler's Raid** On October 23, Grant arrived in Chattanooga and assumed command from Thomas. Grant had found the Union forces in a near-desperate situation. His first priority was to establish a secure supply route. A plan to achieve this was offered by Thomas's Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. W.F. "Baldy" Smith. He suggested an amphibious attack on the Confederates that were holding Brown's Ferry. Grant approved the plan immediately.
With the arrival of Sherman, Grant was ready to take the heights above Chattanooga. Thomas would take Orchard Knob then "demonstrate" at the center to prevent Bragg from reinforcing his flanks while Hooker came in from the left and Sherman from the right.
Fearful of the consequences of losing Chattanooga to the Confederates, Secretary of War Henry Halleck decided to send some reinforcements to help Thomas and his army. He sent from Virginia, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker with the Army of the Potomac's XI Corps and XII Corps and from Mississippi, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman with the XV Corps and XII Corps. On October 27, Thomas succeeded in opening a Union supply route
from Bridgeport, Alabama through Wauhatchie, Tennessee, and to just outside Chattanooga. Smith led 3,500 Union troops, silently drifted down the Tennessee River, past the Confederate position on Lookout Mountain, and charged ashore at Brown's Ferry just before dawn. After the Union troops chased off a Confederate brigade, under Col. Evander Law, Smith's men erected a pontoon bridge and opened up the supply line.
On October 28, after the retreat of the Confederates, the supply route was open. Hooker had formed the supply route known as the "Cracker Line". That night, the Confederates attacked the supply route but they were beaten back by Hazen's men.
BATTLE OF ORCHARD KNOB On November 23, Grant, before his planned offensive on Bragg's lines overlooking Chattanooga, asked that elements of Thomas' army probe the Confederates center. Through late morning, Grant had a plan to trick the Confederates. Brig. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's and Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood's divisions of the IV Corps assembled along the center of the Union lines and gave the impression of preparing for a formal military review of its troops.
Without artillery support, the Federal probe was to make a reconnaissance in force on Orchard Knob. Orchard Knob was a 100 foot high, lightly wooded foothill of the Missionary Ridge range occupied by Bragg's troops. The Confederates forward position sat 1 mile in front of the Union center, midway between the main Union and Confederate lines.
At about 12:30 P.M., the 2 Union divisions marched out of their lines to the open plain in front and assembled in formal fashion. Brig. Gen. Richard W. Johnson's troops guarded their right. Confederates on Orchard Knob and Missionary Ridge left their rifle pit and tents to watch the Union review. For an hour, Federals marched back and forth, positioning themselves for their push while appearing to be drilling.
At 1:30 P.M., a signal cannon fired in Fort Wood and they rushed forward, elements of Wood's troops in the lead. Confederates on the Orchard Knob rushed back to their defense line; pickets in a belt of timber west of the hill were driven out. Within the hour, each succeeding Confederate line fell back on the next. The Federals drove into hilltop ramparts, surviving Confederates ran for the lines on Missionary Ridge, and the Union flag was planted at the crest of Orchard Knob.
Surprised at the success of the probe, Thomas signaled Wood,"You have gained too much to withdraw. Hold your position and I will support you." Blair's division and Howard's XI Corps troops moved to the Confederate left and right, secured the front, and the entire Union army moved it's lines forward. This was to be the easiest Union victory in the battles for Chattanooga.
This unexpected success changed Grant's plans. His objective at Chattanooga was to turn Bragg's right, located at the north end of Missionary Ridge. Sherman's troops were manuevering to assault this position the next day. Meanwhile, Hooker's force was to make a demonstration on Bragg's left at Lookout Mountain. Because of their surprise victory at Orchard Knob, Grant and Thomas instructed Hooker to press ahead at Lookout Mountain if his demonstration proved successful.
BATTLE OF LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN
On November 24, while Sherman was making his initial attack, Hooker had moved out with 3 divisions. His mission was to get into the Chattanooga Valley and occupy Rossville Gap. Grant realized that once the battle started, Hooker's previous mission of protecting the vital line of communication down Lookout Valley would have no further importance. Accordingly, Howard's Corps had been withdrawn from Hooker's command and moved to Chattanooga before the battle started. Grant originally planned to move Hooker's other 2 divisions to Chattanooga so they could advance on Rossville Gap with having to fight their way past Lookout Mountain. But difficulties with the pontoon bridge made this impossible, and resulted in Hooker's having 3 divisions instead of 2 divisions. Accordingly, Grant ordered to attack around Lookout Mountain.
The Confederates were holding Lookout Mountain to guard against an Union approach from Trenton. Sherman had sent a division toward there as a diversion; it rejoined his main body for the attack on Missionary Ridge.
Lookout Mountain drops precipitously several hundred feet from a plateau nearly 1,100 feet above the river. The top was occupied by 2 Confederate brigades. One brigade blocked the narrow passage around the northern face of the mountain, and the other brigade was posted up the slope from it.
Brig. Gen. John Geary's division, reinforced by one Confederate brigades, crossed Lookout Creek above the Wauhatchie at about 8:00 A.M. Contact was made at about 10:00 A.M., and a sharp fight took place around Craven's Farm, called the "White House". A heavy fog covered the area as both sides brought up reinforcements.
Around 12:00 P.M., the Confederates were driven from Craven's Farm to a new position about 400 yards away. Here, they were reinforced by the 2 brigades from the plateau, and held this position from 2:00 P.M. until after midnight, when they were ordered to withdraw.
Troops from Chattanooga had been pouring across Brown's Ferry and into Lookout Valley. Even the Confederate attack that destroyed Col. Baldy Smith's bridge only slowed troop movement to the western side of Lookout Mountain. More than 10,000 Union soldiers were in position, appearing ready to attack roughly 1,000 Confederates on the slopes and at the top of Lookout Mountain. On the evening of November 23, Stevenson told Bragg about his concern.
Unknown to the Confederates at the time, the Union army had broken the Confederate code. Thomas knew the contents of the message before Bragg did. He ordered Hooker to test the strength of the Confederate forces on the mountain.
It had been assumed that Bragg had left enough men to protect the easily defend peak, but he had not. Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside was in Knoxville and Bragg had stripped his troops to the bare minimum to send men there. It was a mistake that may have cost the Confederacy the war. Hooker came up with a brilliant plan to mitigate the advantage the Confederates had by controlling Lookout Mountain. Rather than trying to take the top of the mountain, his men would cross Lookout Creek, move up the slope of the mountain, then sweep the Confederates towards the north end of the mountain.
As Lookout Mountain rises, its slope becomes steeper and about 300 feet below the top the slope is near-vertical and strewn with large boulders. The Confederate commanders and Hooker both felt that this was an impregnable fortress.
Once Geary's men reached about 2/3 of the way up the slope, they stopped climbing and began to move in a line parallel to the top of the mountain. The Confederates were prepared for a force coming up the hill, not at them from the side. Now they pulled back under fire, giving ground up slowly but steadily. Brig. Gen. Edward Walthall, whose troops were guarding the slopes, tried to coordinate a defensive line but failed. By noon, Geary's men were approaching the front of the mountain.
A fog began to cover much of the top half of the mountain at 10:00 A.M., obscuring the view of the participants of the battle and the men in the Chattanooga Valley. It was this meteorological phenomena that gave the fighting on Lookout Mountain its nickname, "The Battle Above the Clouds." Through the fog, Confederate artillery passed over the heads of the advancing Union soldiers. Occasionally, the fog would lift briefly so that the Union army in the Chattanooga Valley could see the action.
As Union troops approached the level ground, the fog lifted. Not only could the men on Lookout Mountain see each other, but the men in the valley below could see the action as well. With a sudden burst, the Union soldiers appeared and captured the plateau from unprepared Confederate defenders. Then the Confederates counterattacked, trying to buy time for their fellow soldiers to establish a line east of the home. The fog then returned.
Relentlessly, Hooker's troops marched on. It seemed as if nothing would prevent the Union Army from surrounding Lookout Mountain and trapping the artillery on the top. Then the Confederates got a series of unexpected breaks. Geary halted the forward advance of the Union line to regroup. While Geary was regrouping, Hooker ordered him to maintain his position because the Confederate lines were moving. Brig. Gen. Edmund Pettis moved his men into position to support Walthall and at 2:30 P.M., the Confederate line began to advance.
The battle ended abruptly at 4:00 P.M. when Stevenson received orders to withdraw from his position on Lookout Mountain and joined Bragg on Missionary Ridge.
BATTLE OF MISSIONARY RIDGE On November 25, Sherman attacked the eastern end of Bragg's line. Sherman came up against Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, who fought stubbornly considering his army was outnumbered by 5-to-1. Sherman was held on the right by a smaller Confederate force, and Hooker faired no better on the left. After descending the mountain he had taken the day before, Hooker found that the Confederates had destroyed the only bridge over Chickamauga Creek, preventing Hooker's advance.
At 3:30 P.M., after word reached headquaters of Sherman's inability to reach his objective, Grant ordered Thomas to advance on the first line of defense on Missionary Ridge. The Confederate line resisted at first then gave in to the advancing Federals.
Fully aware that the men of Sherman's and Hooker's armies were watching, Thomas's men began to move up Missionary Ridge. Shouting "Chickamauga, Chickamauga", the men advanced on the entrenched Confederates. The artillery line had been misplaced at the top of the ridge instead of the crest. The artillery fire was less effective and the Union advance quickly overran the Confederate forces.
Bragg had a strong natural position on Missionary Ridge. His right, or "strategic," flank was held by 14 brigades in Brig. Gen. William Hardee's corps. Brig. Gen. John Breckinridge had 9 brigades with which to cover a 2.5 mile front opposite Grant's center. Three parallel lines of entrenchments had been laid out and partially completed. One line was along the base of the ridge; another had been started about half-way up the slope; and a third was along the crest.
Grant established his headquarters at Orchard Knob on November 24, and about midnight sent word to Sherman to resume his attack at dawn. Hooker was ordered to continue his advance to Rossville Gap.
Ewing's division (of Sherman's force) attacked south; the brigade of Corse, reinforced by a regiment of Lightburn, spearheaded the advance, while the brigades of Cockerill, Alexander, and Lightburn were initially to hold the hill taken the day before. Morgan Smith's division advanced along the eastern slope, maintaining contact with Corse on his right. Along the western slope, the brigade of Loomis was to advance with 2 brigades from John Smith's division in support.
Corse moved out under heavy fire and took some high ground about 80 yards from the Confederate's main position. From this base, he launched repeated assaults for over an hour without success. The forces on his left and right gained ground, thereby relieving some pressure, but were not able to achieve any permanent lodgment. Union artillery batteries did what they could to support the infantry, but the terrain and the close fighting were such that they could not render effective assistance. Corse was severely wounded about 10:00 A.M. The fighting on this flank continued with varying results until about 3:00 P.M.
Meanwhile, Hooker's advance had been delayed 4 or 5 hours in rebuilding the bridge the Confederates had destroyed over the Chattanooga and in removing other obstructions. It was late afternoon before he was in a position to threaten Bragg's left flank. Bragg, in the meantime, had reinforced his right with the divisions of Cheatham and Stevenson.
Showing outstanding generalship, Grant did not make the error of throwing troops from his center into the planned frontal attack before some decisive results had been achieved on the flanks. Sherman's situation, however, was critical, and the original plan had to be modified. At 10:00 A.M., he made Howard's 2 divisions available to reinforce Sherman's left. A new Union attack gained some ground, but was driven back by a counterattack which routed the brigades of John Smith (on the right). The brigades of Corse and Loomis then drove the Confederates back into their original positions.
Continuing to reinforce the left, Grant at 12:00 P.M. ordered Baird's division to move from the right of Indian Hill to reinforce Sherman. Baird arrived behind Sherman's position, was told he was not needed, and then moved to a position on Wood's left. He formed in line at 2:30 P.M.
Hooker, in the meantime, had started attacking the Confederate left. The rest of Wood's brigade headed for high ground on the right of the gap, and Williamson's moved up on the left. The Confederates withdrew, leaving a considerable quantity of supplies. By this time the bridge was completed and the rest of Hooker's forces reinforced the leading brigades. Hooker sent Crufts division along the ridge and Geary and Osterhaus on his left and right. They led an assault that started crushing Bragg's left flank.
Grant now saw that even though Sherman's envelopment had failed he must make a final effort before dark. Between 3:00- 4:00 P.M., the long-awaited 6 cannon shots signaled the assault. The divisions of Baird , Wood, and Sheridan , and Johnson were on line from left to right.
Grant had intended that the troops halt after taking the first line, and reorganize. Much to his consternation, Grant saw the troops capture the first line and then press on immediately for the summit. The attackers had found out that lingering in the initial position would subject them to murderous fire from the crest, and that the safest thing was to charge up the hill. This they did on their own initiative. Grant is reported to have asked Thomas and Granger who had ordered the attack. The commanders actually tried to stop this advance. Turchin's brigade was halted and Wagner's brigade was called back from an advanced position .
Bragg had made several mistakes in his defensive dispositions. He had split his forces, putting half at the bottom of the hill with secret orders to fire a volley when the enemy got to within 200 yards, and then to withdraw up the slopes. Many men apparently were not informed of this plan, and defended the first line even when others had pulled back. A Confederate engineer had taken his instructions literally when told to put the final line on the highest ground. This line was along the geographic or topographic crest instead of the "military crest" (the highest place from which you can see and fire on an approaching enemy).
The Federals found "dead space" through which they could advance under cover, and came forward in about 6 separate lines of approach. Footholds were established at various places, and enfilade fire from these penetrations destroyed the Confederate strong points that had been able to resist the frontal assault. Sheridan was the only division commander who maintained enough cohesion in his unit to pursue; he took a large number of Confederate guns and prisoners, and came very close to capturing Bragg, Breckinridge, and a number of other high-ranking officers. The final Union assault had lasted about an hour with 37 guns and 2,000 prisoners taken.
Hooker, meanwhile, was rolling up the left. Many Confederate units panicked, but Grant was unable to pursue effectively. The Confederates rallied on a ridge about 500 yards to the rear. Cleburne continued to hold Sherman after the firing had died out along the rest of the line. Bragg withdrew that night toward Dalton, while Hardee's corps covered the rear of the retreating Confederates.
Bragg ordered a retreat to Dalton and gave Cleburne the grim task of guarding his rear. Safely back in Dalton, he wired Davis of the defeat and asked to be relieved of duty, admitting it had been wrong to leave him in command when Davis visited in October.
The loss of Chattanooga was a severe blow to the Confederacy. A vital line of lateral communications was lost, and the stage was set for Sherman's move to split the Confederacy further with his Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea Campaign.
For a detailed map of the battle, CLICK HERE (provided from the USMA)