Sunday, December 15, 2013

November 24, 1863

November 24, 1863

Battle of Chattanooga
Nov. 23-25, 1863

Day 2:  Lookout Mountain

---In the early morning hours, Gen. Joseph Hooker, west of Lookout Mountain, leads three divisions forward to the slopes of Lookout Mountain, the brooding dominant feature over the city.  His goal is to sweep around the lower, gentler slopes of the northern spur of the mountain between the peak and the river.  His three divisions, oddly enough, come from the three different armies present, since Howard’s XI Corps was with Sherman preparing to attack the far right of the Confederate line: John Geary’s division of the XII Corps from the Army of the Potomac, Charles Cruft’s division from Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, and a division from Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee on loan, under Peter Osterhaus.  
Battle for Lookout Mountain, courtesy of Civil War Trust

Hooker assigns Geary, reinforced with one of Cruft’s brigades, to cross Lookout Creek farther south, at Wauhatchie, and then sweep northward along the flank of the foothill slopes.  Osterhaus, with his division (and the other of Cruft’s brigades) crosses further north.  The morning is heavy with fog, and the progress is slow going, as the Federal troops stumble on the fissured, rock-strewn slopes of the mountain.  
A detail of James Miller's painting of the fight at Lookout Mountain, featuring Gen. Hooker at left on a white horse.

Meanwhile, Hooker’s artillery opens up, and begins shelling higher up the slope and up on the top of the mountain where the Rebel cannon are.  Even though 7,000 Rebel infantry are posted on the mountain, they are scattered in a variety of locations.  As the Yankees come sweeping around the northern shoulder of the lower plateau at about 10:00 AM, they meet only one gray brigade, under Brig, Gen. Walthall.  Neither Walthall’s division commander, John Jackson, nor Jackson’s superior Carter Stevenson, knew the ground, having just arrived to take command of the position.  So although the fog had favored the Confederates at first, soon it favored the Yankees as they make contact with Walthall’s lines, since his superiors could not see anything, or know where to send support.  As Geary’s division wheels left, he hooks up with Osterhaus’ division, just coming up from the river, and the blue line stretches far beyond the Rebel’s right flank at the Cravens farm, where their line is anchored. 
The Rebel defense near Craven House, detail from a painting by Mort Kunstler

Walthall’s 1,500 men cannot withstand the 10,000 Federals, and Walthall calls on Gen. Moore to come to his support with another brigade.  Moore is slow in arriving, and the Rebels give ground grudgingly, and fight for three hours before giving way before the Union onslaught.  Rebel guns atop the mountain find that they cannot depress the muzzles of their guns low enough to help their infantry far below.  
Today's view from the crest

Another brigade under Pettus comes down from the mountaintop and relieves Walthall, whose troops are exhausted.  
Gen. Joseph Hooker at Lookout Mountain

The Confederates have been pushed back some distance.  As dusk falls, an additional brigade of Federal troops come up on the Confederate right flank, but do not attack.  The battle finds a pause as dusk falls, the fog still thick.  That night, there is a total eclipse of the moon, and the Southern troops take it as a bad omen for their cause.  That night, Gen. Bragg decides that they cannot hold Lookout Mountain.  The day’s fighting inflicts 480 casualties on the Union forces, but over 1,200 on the Confederate.  Gen. Grant, however, in his memoirs, years later, called the battle “one of the romances of the war.”
Battle of Lookout Mountain.  Click to enlarge.
Meanwhile, Gen. Sherman and his 26,000 men move along the Tennessee River, including a special contingent of troops who are pulling a fleet of pontoon boats upstream past the city.

---Outside of Knoxville, Gen. Longstreet, having bottled up Gen. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio in Knoxville, prepares for an assault on the Federal defenses—specifically, on Fort Sanders, the bastion of the northwest corner of the city.  He has Col. Porter Alexander line up over 30 cannon for a bombardment.  Meanwhile, the Federals are beginning to go on short rations: they are killing their mules and other draft animals and dumping them into the Holston River.  The Rebels haul the animals out and remove the horseshoes, for their own use.

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