Sunday, December 15, 2013

November 25, 1863

November 25, 1863

Battle of Chattanooga
Nov. 23-25, 1863

Day 3:  Lookout Mountain
          Tunnel Hill
          Missionary Ridge

---Lookout Mountain:  As dawn rises in the morning, the eyes of the entire Federal army are turned to the peak of Lookout Mountain, as the first rays of the sun strike a Union flag on the abandoned mountain, where a Capt. Wilson and 5 enlisted men from the 8th Kentucky Infantry Regiment had scaled the steep sides of the mountain with the flag, finding no enemy there. 
A roar of cheering rose from troops on both sides of the mountain, and from the city, and is written about and embroidered for the Northern papers.  The battle is soon christened fancifully as the Battle above the Clouds, and electrifies the Northern popular imagination.  Hooker immediately pushes around the mountain and drives for Rossville Gap, at the southern foot of Missionary Ridge, to endanger the main Confederate line.  The Rebels in front of Hooker do not offer much resistance.

Tunnel Hill:  Sherman, having crossed most of his troops to the southeast bank of the river during the night, marches a division forward to what is supposed to be Tunnel Hill, the right anchor of the Rebel line, and finds that it is not the hill, but that they need to cross yet another narrow vale and up another mountain.  Brig, Gen. Ewing (Sherman’s brother-in-law) pushes his division up this slope, and finds that Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, the best division commander in Bragg’s army, is firmly entrenched on the upper slopes of Tunnel Hill.  He places a brigade of Texans under Brig. Gen. James A. Smith in the center, wrapped around the narrow crest of the hill.  
Tunnel Hill.  Map courtesy of Civil War Trust

A brigade of Federals under Corse push up the hill and are shot down as they come.  Ewing begins deploying more brigades to come in at different angles, and Gen. Smith deploys his division on Ewing’s left flank.  But Cleburne has  put brigade under Lewis, Govan, and Lowery to guard his right, Cumming on the left, and Stevenson’s division links up directly on his left, so the Yankees can find no weaknesses to exploit.  A Rebel battery from Mississippi is atop the peak of Cleburne’s line, and takes heavy casualties, but the cannons cut large holes in the Federal formations.  When the Yankees get within a few yards of the Rebel earthworks, two regiments of Texans stand up and jump forward with bayonets and drive the Federals back down the slope.  Both Corse and Smith (the Texan) are badly wounded.  Col. Hiram Granbury takes command of the Texans and prepares to receive more attacks.  More Northern brigades try to assist as the attacks are renewed, and the fighting continues for another two hours as attacks continue all up and down the line.  Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a Wisconsin artilleryman, records his in journal:  “I staid under that hill, listening to the noise and rattle of the fight, mingled with the suppressed cheers of charging parties, and the groans of the wounded as they passed in long trains of ambulances, or the lighter hobbling back a-foot with bleeding and mangled limbs.”  

The Federal attacks are persistent, and Cleburne’s men are running out of ammunition, when Gen. Cumming proposes a charge downhill to break the Yankee confidence.  Cumming leads two Georgia regiments into Mathies’ Union line, and he breaks; his flank exposed, Loomis also withdraws, and the Union line begins to unravel.  Gen. Cleburne himself leaps over the earthworks, sword drawn, and leads Granbury’s Texans in a charge.  Gen. Sherman, having taken over 2,000 casualties, calls a halt to the attacks.  Tunnel Hill remains firmly in Confederate hands.

Meanwhile, Hooker’s troops are making inroads against Breckinridge’s Confederates, who are covering the Rebel left flank near Rossville Gap.  Advances by Cruft’s Yankees find a foothold on the southern end of Missionary Ridge, and Breckinridge will not be able to hold them long.

Missionary Ridge:  Gen. Grant, disappointed at Shermans’ failure to take the right end of Missionary Ridge, deliberates on his next action.  He does take heart that Hooker has compromised the Rebel’s left flank, though, and decides to go ahead with other attacks.  After consulting with Gen. Thomas, he asks the Army of the Cumberland to go forward across the valley to capture the Confederate rifle pits at the base of the steep-sloped ridge, as a temporary measure.  Thomas lines up four divisions---from left to right, Absalom Baird’s, Thomas Woods’, Phil Sheridan’s, and Richard Johnson’s, under overall command of Gordon Granger.  The troops of the Cumberland feel the moment very keenly, after spending months being the butt of jokes from the other Union troops for the Chickamauga defeat, for having to rescue the Cumberlands from the siege, and for being mostly inactive during the operations before this day---and clearly not trusted by the commanding general, Grant.  Brig. Gen. Hazen records that every man in his brigade—clerks, teamsters, cooks, servants, white or black—found guns and joined the attack formation.  The attack is an hour late because no one can find Gen. Granger, who is finally located sighting guns from the batteries on Orchard Knob and personally firing them.  Granger is recalled to his duty, and he orders the four division forward, 20,000 strong.  The Confederates note the parade-ground precision of the Federal advance, Thomas being a stickler for drill precision.  As they advance, the Union artillery opens fire from all directions, center, left, and right, ahead of the infantry formations, and begin riddling the crest of Missionary Ridge.  In turn, the Confederate guns had a clear shot at the advancing lines, and inflicted horrible losses on Granger’s divisions.  But all four blue divisions slam into the fortifications at the base of the ridge, and most of the Rebel regiments flee up the mountainside.  Some remain, the victims of muddled orders, and the Yankees capture them and send them to the rear.  But what the Cumberlands are supposed to do after that is unclear.  They had been given no further orders, and since their artillery could no longer support them, they are subject to a galling artillery fire from several directions, and marksmanlike rifle fire from above, on the crest of the ridge.  This is an unbearable position, and suddenly Union troops begin ascending the steep hillside.  Then begins one of the most remarkable events of the war.  Gen. Sheridan sees his troops going forward, and he leaps to the front and orders his whole division to go up.  Soon, the other three divisions are climbing up the ridge as well.  The men carry their rifles and equipment, and grip branches and weeds to pull themselves up—even using bayonets as climbing picks, driving them into the dirt and pulling themselves up by gripping the sockets with both hands, and then dragging rifles after them. 

Back on Orchard Knob, a disbelieving Grant sees the impossible sight and growls, “Thomas, who ordered those men up that ridge?”  Thomas says he does not know.  Grant turns to Granger and asks if he gave the order.  “No, they started without orders,” and added, “When those fellows get started, all hell can’t stop them.”  Fuming, Grant was heard to mumble, “It’s all right---if it turns out all right.  If not, someone will suffer.”

Back on Missionary Ridge, The Confederates are seized with confusion, and find that they cannot lower the cannon barrels low enough to fire on the blue-coats on the ridge slope.  The Rebel gunners light the fuses of shells and roll them down, and also throw large rocks down the slope.  But they soon stop doing this, since many of their own comrades are fleeing back up the slope head of the Yankees.  The Rebel also cannot easily see their comrades on the broken, crenellated crest of the ridge, and smaller units feel isolated.  The defenders of the crest get little or no instruction from their dumbfounded commanders, and panic spreads amongst the Southern troops.  But the unearthly determination of the climbing Yankee troops unnerves the Rebels, and not only do they break and retreat as the bluecoats reach the crest, but many simply throw down their rifles and run.  At the same time, Hooker’s men are pushing along the ridge from the south, and the Confederate line simply dissolves.  Bragg rides out amongst the fleeing soldiers, and they only ignore or openly scoff at him—and he is nearly captured himself.  One soldier from the 8th Kansas Infantry remembers:

Gray-clad men rushed wildly down the hill and into the woods, tossing away knapsacks, muskets, and blankets as they ran.  Batteries galloped back along the narrow, winding roads with reckless speed, and officers, frantic with rage, rushed from one panic-stricken group to another, shouting and cursing as they strove to check the headlong flight. In ten minutes, all that remained of the defiant rebel army that has so long besieged Chattanooga was captured guns, disarmed prisoners, moaning wounded, ghastly dead, and scattered, demoralized fugitives.

The formerly humiliated Cumberland troops are tossing haversacks, caps, and dancing, shouting, and crying for joy.  The flags of nearly 60 regiments fly from the crest.  Gen. Granger, who has ridden to the top of the ridge to join his formation, gleefully rides amongst the bluecoats, laughing and scolding in mock horror: “I’m going to have you all court-marshaled!  You were ordered to take the works at the foot of the hill and you have taken those at the top!  You have disobeyed orders!”  Only Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s division retreats in good order and manages to cover the retreat in an orderly fashion.  Union Victory.

U.S., 5,800                 

C.S., 6,700 (4,100 of those captured on Missionary Ridge)

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