National Park Service black bar with arrowhead logo
NPS History E-Library
 
 

Civil War Series

The Battles for Chattanooga

   

(click on image for a PDF version)
BRAGG LAYS SIEGE TO CHATTANOOGA, SEPTEMBER 24, 1863
Rosecrans has withdrawn the Army of the Cumberland into Chattanooga. Houses, buildings, and trees on the edge of the city were removed for construction material and to create fields of fire. Federal forces stationed on Moccasin Point guarded the approaches into the city from Lookout Mountain and Lookout Valley.

Bragg deployed the Army of Tennessee in positions along the base of Missionary Ridge, across Chattanooga Valley, and to the northern toe of Lookout Mountain. Longstreet's forces soon occupied Lookout Mountain and extended a small number of troops into Lookout Valley closing off all the Federal supply routes into Chattanooga but the northern one.

Grant arrived at Chattanooga on October 23. General Thomas was ready with a formal briefing. He made a few general remarks, then gave the floor over to Major General William Farrar "Baldy" Smith, a recent arrival to the Army of the Cumberland whom Rosecrans had made chief engineer of the Department of the Cumberland. Before being relieved, Rosecrans had devised a plan for reopening the river supply route to Bridgeport, which would dramatically cut both the time and risk to Union supply efforts. Fundamental to Rosecrans's plan was the conviction that General Joseph Hooker must move from Bridgeport with his force from the Army of the Potomac to occupy Lookout Valley and seize the passes of Lookout Mountain before a bridge could be thrown across the Tennessee River from Moccasin Point, for the last leg of the journey into Chattanooga.

Reconnoitering possible bridge sites the week before, Smith had come upon a spot on the western side of Moccasin Point known locally as Brown's Ferry that struck him as ideal. Its tactical importance was obvious. The only road along that stretch of the river cut through a gap in a chain of foothills that lined the shore opposite Brown's Ferry. More significant, less than a quarter mile beyond the gap the road turned south and became the primary wagon road through Lookout Valley as far south as Wauhatchie, where it forked, meeting a road that ran west all the way to Kelley's Ferry. The gap itself struck Smith as an ideal crossing site. Narrow but deep, it split the foothills just above the level of the river. Only a few Rebel picket posts were in evidence.

GENERAL ROSECRANS (SEATED FOURTH FROM LEFT) AND STAFF. (THE WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

Smith stood before a large map of the region and spoke passionately of his plan to Grant. Grant was impressed. He approved Smith's scheme for opening the supply route now known as the cracker line and delegated its execution to Thomas and Smith.

The two worked quickly. Thomas immediately wired Hooker detailed marching orders. He was to detach Major General Henry Slocum with one division of the Twelfth Corps to guard the rail line from Murfreesboro to Bridgeport. With the remaining division, under Brigadier General John Geary, and Howard's Eleventh Corps, Hooker was to cross the Tennessee River at Bridgeport and move as rapidly as possible to Lookout Valley.

Hooker was slow in starting. His command was scattered across the countryside north of Bridgeport. With the roads still miserable quagmires from the rains, it would be a day, perhaps two, before be would be ready to move.

Grant was annoyed but not alarmed. He no longer shared Smith's conviction that Hooker's thrust into Lookout Valley must occur simultaneously. As he now saw things, the capture of Brown's Ferry and the hills flanking it would permit him to forestall the sort of Rebel concentration in Lookout Valley designed to drive back Hooker that Smith feared. A lodgment at Brown's Ferry would enable Grant to throw a force against the right flank of any Rebel units that ventured into the valley.

As Thomas kept an eye on Hooker's progress, Smith set about organizing the assault on Brown's Ferry. One brigade would travel downriver under the cover of darkness from Chattanooga to Brown's Ferry; there the troops were to disembark and capture the gorge and hills on the west bank. The hazards were clear: the men would be floating targets for nine miles. Rebel batteries atop Lookout might reduce the flotilla to splinters. Smith judged the reward worth the risk.

AN ILLUSTRATION BY C. S. REINHART OF GRANT AT THOMAS'S HEADQUARTERS. SHOWN LEFT TO RIGHT ARE GENERAL RAWLINS, CHARLES A. DANA, GENERAL WILSON, GENERAL W. E. SMITH, GENERAL GRANT, GENERAL THOMAS, AND CAPTAIN PORTER. (NPS)

Meanwhile, a second brigade and the artillery were to march across Moccasin Point to the ferry in time to cross the river in support of the assaulting force.

Smith chose his brigade wisely. For the river-borne force he selected the command of Brigadier General William Hazen, a proven fighter whose daring was exceeded only by his ambition. To lead the supporting brigade, Smith called on the "Mad Russian," Brigadier General John Turchin.

No one at Bragg's headquarters atop Missionary Ridge had an inkling of what was about to unfold over in Lookout Valley. And they were not going to find out, if matters were left to General Longstreet. Bragg had accurate information on Sherman's progress across northern Mississippi, thanks to Stephen Dill Lee's cavalry. Closer to home, he learned from scouts on October 25 that Hooker was preparing to cross the river at Bridgeport. That same day, Major James Austin's Ninth Kentucky Cavalry came upon Yankee engineers rebuilding the railroad trestles in the gorge of Running Water Creek.

Austin's report worried Bragg. He ordered Longstreet to make a close reconnaissance toward Bridgeport and to protect his left flank, presumably by moving additional units into Lookout Valley.

Nothing happened; Longstreet simply laid aside Bragg's instructions. Still smarting over President Davis's decision to retain Bragg, Longstreet probably reasoned that, if he could not command the army, he might at least run his corps as he saw fit.

In truth, Longstreet was doing a poor job at even that. After committing Evander Law's brigade to the defense of Lookout Valley in early October, Longstreet gave no further thought to that all-important avenue of approach.

GENERAL BRAXTON BRAGG (USAMHI)

Matters there were worse than Bragg could have imagined. Law went on a leave of absence. For reasons known only to himself, Brigadier General Micah Jenkins recalled Law's three reserve regiments to the east side of Lookout Mountain on October 25, leaving only Colonel William Oates with the Fifteenth Alabama near Brown's Ferry and the Fourth Alabama scattered northward along the bank of the river.

Shortly after midnight on October 26, the soldiers of Hazen's brigade were assembled at the embarkation point. The moon sank below the horizon. A heavy mist rolled into the valley, blanketing the river. Only then did company officers learn of their destination.

All was ready at 3:00 A.M. on October 27. The boats glided past the looming point of Lookout Mountain. At 4:30 A.M. the lead flatboat thudded against the riverbank at Brown's Ferry. Ten minutes after the last pontoon landed, Brown's Ferry was in Federal hands. Out in the valley beyond the ferry, Colonel Oates was shaken awake as the first light of dawn touched the hilltops. A frightened private from the scattered picket force told him of the Yankee crossing.

HAZEN'S MEN FLOAT DOWN THE TENNESSEE RIVER NEAR BROWN'S FERRY. (NPS)

PORTRAIT OF GENERAL JAMES LONGSTREET. (NPS)

The cracking of axes against trees told Oates where to find the Federals, but in the dark he could not guess their numbers. He attacked nonetheless, and his Alabamians were slaughtered. Oates himself fell with a bullet through the arm. Carried to a house near the mouth of Lookout Creek, Oates met General Law at the head of his three reserve regiments. "I told him that he was too late, in my opinion, to accomplish anything; that a heavy force had already crossed the river," recalled Oates. Thoroughly disgusted, Law placed his brigade astride the road over Lookout Mountain and reported the disaster to Longstreet.

Brown's Ferry was a scant three miles from Longstreet's headquarters. But it may as well have been in another country, for all the attention Longstreet paid it. Moccasin Point and Lookout Mountain not only blocked the general's view of the ferry but also blinded him to its tactical significance. He greeted Law's frantic dispatch announcing the fall of Brown's Ferry with an indifference that amounted to dereliction of duty. Confident that the Yankee crossing was merely a feint to cover a Federal approach along the length of Lookout Mountain, beginning near Trenton, Longstreet tucked away Law's message and gave the matter no further thought; nor did he bother to inform Bragg of what had happened. Longstreet's odd notion of a Federal threat from the south was the product of his imagination. He had neglected to reconnoiter toward Bridgeport as Bragg ordered, nor did he have scouts out in the direction of Trenton to test his assumption.

Up on Missionary Ridge, Bragg exploded with rage when he learned that Brown's Ferry had fallen. He rued ever having given Longstreet so much responsibility and sent word to him to retake the lost ground at once.

Again Longstreet did nothing. He let the day slip away and permitted Smith's Federals to consolidate their bridgehead unmolested. He argued with Bragg well into the night of October 27 that the enemy was moving on Trenton in force. Bragg was unconvinced. To prevent further misunderstanding, Bragg met Longstreet atop Lookout Mountain the next morning. Their discussion was cut short by a startling discovery: a long and powerful Federal column had emerged from the gorge of Running Water Creek and was marching down Lookout Valley. Fourteen hundred feet below and less than a mile west from where Bragg and Longstreet stood was the head of Hooker's column, closing on the valley hamlet of Wauhatchie.

Hooker made good time down the valley, reaching Brown's Ferry at 3:45 P.M. The joy of Hazen's and Turchin's men, on seeing the easterners' approach, "was beyond description," said an officer in Hazen's brigade.

With the wagon road to Bridgeport open and the river clear to Kelley's Ferry, Thomas and his staff worked late into the night to see to it that rations would begin to flow over the Cracker Line into Chattanooga. Difficulties remained, but Thomas felt confident enough to wire Halleck that night that he hoped "in a few days to be pretty well supplied."

LONGSTREET'S SHARPSHOOTERS FIRE UPON A FEDERAL WAGON TRAIN DURING AN OCTOBER SKIRMISH. (HARPER'S PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE GREAT REBELLION)

BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN GEARY (LC)

Of course, that was contingent upon Hooker and Smith holding open the wagon road across the northern stretch of Lookout Valley, which linked Brown's Ferry with Kelley's Ferry. For the master of Brown's Ferry, that should have been an easy task, but Smith was deeply troubled. Hooker had not taken up any military position but directed the commanders to find good cover for the troops and encamp for the night. The divisions of Adolph von Steinwehr and Carl Schurz bivouacked haphazardly in the fields on either side of the road, a half-mile above Brown's Ferry.

Hooker's most egregious error was his placement of John Geary's tiny division, down to just 1,500 men, at Wauhatchie. There were two viable approaches across the valley to Kelley's Ferry, one the wagon road over the northern base of Lookout Mountain near the river, the other a country lane that left the valley road at Wauhatchie and wound its way northwest toward a gorge in Raccoon Mountain that ended at the ferry. Hooker was confident that Howard could intercept any force attempting to move against Kelley's Ferry by way of the northern approach but worried that the Rebels might use the road from Wauhatchie if it were left undefended. Consequently, he ordered Geary to halt there for the night.

Geary obeyed the order with grave misgivings. He saw the danger of his exposed position under the heights of Lookout, from which the Confederates could watch his every move. As night fell and a brilliant, nearly full moon rose over Lookout Valley, Geary ordered his two brigade commanders, Brigade General George Sears Greene and Colonel George A. Cobham, Jr., to bivouac their commands upon their arms. With the infantry were four guns of Knap's Pennsylvania battery, one section of which was led by Geary's son, Lieutenant Edward Geary.

The men camped along the northern fringe of a forest 300 yards north of where the Trenton Railroad joined the Nashville and Chattanooga line. A broad corn field lay beyond the forest. On the southern edge of the field stood a log cabin belonging to the Rowden family. Northeast of the cabin was a low knoll. The railroad tracks, which ran upon an embankment, skirted the knoll. Fifty yards south of the cabin rose another knoll; atop it Geary planted Knap's battery. The country lane to Kelley's Ferry marked the northern limit of the Rowden Field, and a swamp bordered it on the west.

Geary spread his picket posts so as to encircle the division bivouac, pushing sentinels as far as Lookout Creek, and waited.

LONGSTREET USED SUNSET ROCK ON LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN AS AN OBSERVATION AREA PRIOR TO THE BATTLE OF WAUHATCHIE. (NPS)

There had been no meeting of the minds between Bragg and Longstreet during their morning encounter atop Lookout Mountain. Watching Hooker move down the valley, Bragg demanded that Longstreet attack Brown's Ferry, even though it would mean taking on two more Yankee divisions. Longstreet begged leave to attack by moonlight that night. Bragg agreed.

No sooner had Bragg left than Longstreet lost interest in the attack. He failed to tell Law, whose brigade, being nearest the enemy, would play a leading role in any assault, that he should prepare for action at dusk. Longstreet probably would have ignored Bragg's order, had it not been for Hooker's cavalier deployment of Geary's division. Loitering about Sunset Rock in the waning of the late autumn afternoon, Longstreet was startled to see what he assessed to be the Yankee rear guard, burdened with a large wagon train, stop and bivouac "immediately in front of the point upon which we stood."

Longstreet conceived a plan of his own. He would indeed attack: not the Federal main body at Brown's Ferry, as Bragg had demanded, but the isolated force at Wauhatchie. He told Micah Jenkins to bring his remaining brigades over Lookout Mountain as soon as it was dark. Pleased at the prospect of offensive action of any sort, Bragg consented to Longstreet's plan.

Longstreet's planning was erratic—he failed to give either Jenkins or Law clear orders—and his choice of units to carry out the operation was foolish. Between Jenkins and Law there existed a nasty rivalry that had started when Jenkins was given permanent command of Hood's division over Law after Chickamauga.

The two brigadier generals met shortly after nightfall. Jenkins briefed Law on what was expected of him. With his own brigade, commanded by Colonel James Sheffield, and that of Brigadier General James Robertson, Law was to hold the high ground east of the Brown's Ferry road and slash at the flank of any Yankee column that might venture south to relieve the force at Wauhatchie, which Jenkins would attack with his brigade under Colonel John Bratton. Brigadier General Henry Benning's Georgia Brigade was to be held on Law's left, to reinforce Bratton as needed.

Law formed his line of battle on the designated hill and began to fortify it. At 10:00 P.M., Robertson reported with his brigade. Law told him to hold his command in a field behind the hill, both to act as a reserve and to watch the gap that existed between Law's right and the river.

It was nearly midnight before Bratton crossed Lookout Creek. Long, dark clouds rolled over the valley, blanketing the moon and cutting visibility to less than one hundred yards. Bratton's South Carolinians stepped off gaily, believing that they were going out to capture a lightly guarded wagon train. A few minutes after midnight, Bratton's skirmishers collided with Geary's pickets near the creek, overrunning the outpost and driving south along the Brown's Ferry road.

GEARY'S FEDERAL TROOPS HOLD THEIR GROUND AGAINST THE CONFEDERATE ATTACK AT WAUHATCHIE IN THIS PAINTING DY WILLIAM TRAVIS. (SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION)

THIS HOUSE IN CHATTANOOGA SERVED AS THOMAS'S HEADQUARTERS. (LC)

In Geary's camp, bedlam reigned. "The night was still and chilly and the men, roused suddenly from coveted sleep, were dazed and trembled from chilliness and the nervous strain induced by the unexpected situation," said a New Yorker. "They were thoroughly surprised and unprepared for an enemy whose presence they could not divine."

Geary's division deployed in a "V" with the base pointing north. Both sides fought with a brutal tenacity, the blackness of the night feeding their fear. Colonel Bratton tried to maneuver his brigade so as to outflank his numerically equal foe. He also spread his command out in a "V" which opened toward the Federals.

Three of Bratton's regiments hit Geary's line head-on. They came within a stone's throw of the Federal ranks before grinding to a halt on the north side of the Rowden field. Frustrated in their advance, the South Carolinians took aim at the gunners and horses of Knap's battery, atop the knoll only 200 yards away.

Their aim was good. Lieutenant Geary bent down to sight a cannon. He stood up again, yelled "Fire," then fell dead with a bullet between the eyes. Twenty-two of forty-eight artillerymen were shot down, along with thirty-seven of their forty-eight horses.

Although Bratton made no headway against Geary's flanks, he gave no thought to breaking off the attack. He reported, "The enemy line of fire at this time was not more than 300 to 400 yards in length . . . the sparkling fire making a splendid pyrotechnic display."

And by 3:00 A.M., that fire was weakening. Fumbling for their last cartridges, the men on the line prepared for the worst. "It looked as if the engagement would end in a hand-to-hand struggle," speculated a Pennsylvanian.

He was wrong. At the instant his confidence surged to an apex, Bratton was handed a note from Jenkins ordering him to withdraw. A strong Yankee column was pushing up the valley two miles in his rear, the message warned. It had engaged Law and now threatened to cut off Bratton from the bridge over Lookout Creek. Bratton stuffed the note in his pocket and recalled his troops.

KNAP'S PENNSYLVANIA BATTERY, SHOWN HERE AFTER FIGHTING AT ANTIETAM, SUFFERED HEAVY LOSSES AT WAUHATCHIE. (LC)

A DRAWING FROM FRANK LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER OF A FEDERAL STEAMBOAT PASSING THROUGH AN OPENING IN THE PONTOON BRIDGE AT BROWN'S FERRY. (NY PUBLIC LIBRARY PRINT COLLECTION)

The Federal column consisted of Hooker's tired easterners, awakened by the first volleys from Bratton's advance against Geary. Startled by the firing, Hooker was in mortal terror that his disregard for Geary's exposed position might cost him the division, and he told Carl Schurz to "double-quick" his men to Wauhatchie. Unexpected opposition from Law's brigade as the Federals marched past its position forced them to halt and deploy at 2:30 A.M. Geary already had been fighting for two hours.

Convinced that Geary was nearly annihilated, Hooker now confronted the likelihood that the Rebels also were trying to wedge their way between his relieving column and Brown's Ferry. Believing it imperative that Law's hill be secured, Hooker abandoned his resolve to assist Geary with his entire command and ordered an attack on the hill. Under a mistaken impression that Schurz was leading the march (he actually had fallen behind Steinwehr) and thus well on his way to Geary, Hooker threw Orland Smith's brigade of Steinwehr's division into the assault. When Law repelled Smith handily, Hooker and his lieutenants were thrown into a frenzy. Troop commanders pushed on or hesitated, according to their natures. Bewildered staff officers, separated from their superiors, issued orders recklessly. The valley road and fields to the west thronged with troops moving about without a purpose. Only Tyndale's brigade, with Carl Schurz leading it, kept on toward Wauhatchie—one brigade of the original two divisions Hooker had dispatched to Geary.

Soon even that force was distracted from its purpose. Coming up opposite the first rise south of Law's hill, Schurz was told by an officer from Hooker's staff to take it. Schurz questioned the wisdom of the order but halted and deployed Tyndale. At this point, General Howard ceased to be a player in the dark comedy. Perhaps feeling superfluous, he begged Hooker to allow him to continue on his own. Hooker agreed, and Howard rode off with his cavalry escort.

FEDERAL TROOPS CAMPED INSIDE CHATTANOOGA AFTER THE BATTLE. (WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

The only officer above the rank of regimental commander who kept his head was Colonel Smith, who charged the hill again, despite being badly outnumbered. Smith's second assault certainly would have failed had Law not then given up the contest as lost. Staff officers reported that Bratton had been repelled and was falling back over Lookout Creek. Concluding that a further sacrifice of lives would be useless, Law withdrew from the hill just as Smith's men lurched toward his works.

The carrying of the hill did little to settle Hooker's nerves. It was 4:30 A.M., and the firing from Wauhatchie had died away. Hooker told Schurz to hurry on to Geary's camp—on the assumption it still existed.

General Howard and his escort entered Geary's lines at 4:00 A.M. Geary had lost 216 men, including his son. Bratton lost 356. It had been a senseless affair. Hooker had left Geary exposed in the valley and invited an attack to no good end; Grant was disgusted and of a mind to relieve Hooker. Longstreet had accepted Howard's challenge with a force far too small to offer a reasonable chance of success.

Only the Federals had anything to be thankful for. As General Howard wrote his wife: "God has been good and sparing and given us the victory and we have opened the river from Bridgeport almost to Chattanooga." Grant too would concede as much. "The cracker line" was opened, he later wrote, and "never afterward disturbed."

Bragg was less charitable with troublesome subordinates than Grant. After the Wauhatchie fiasco, he looked about for a means to rid himself of Longstreet.

President Davis provided it. Two days earlier, he had reminded Bragg that "the period most favorable for actual operations is rapidly passing away." He suggested that Bragg send Longstreet with his two divisions into East Tennessee to clear out Ambrose Burnside, who had occupied Knoxville in September. That done, Longstreet would be well situated to return to Virginia, where Robert E. Lee was reminding Davis of his urgent need for Longstreet and his 15,000 troops. Davis's suggestion that Bragg detach Longstreet reflected both his lack of appreciation of the gravity of the Union buildup at Chattanooga and the degree to which he was swayed by Robert E. Lee. Bragg was in a position to know better, but he was beyond the force of logical persuasion. On November 3, he called his corps commanders to a council of war. Longstreet had heard rumors that he was to be sent away, but he was unprepared for the finality of Bragg's decision. Bragg told him to move out immediately "to drive Burnside out of East Tennessee first, or better, to capture or destroy him" and to repair the railroad. Along the way, he would be joined by most of the army's cavalry. Bragg would order the divisions of Carter Stevenson and Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, which had been sent into East Tennessee on Burnside's flank, to return to Chattanooga at once, making a net loss to the army of about 4,000 infantry and nearly all of its remaining cavalry.

BURNSIDE'S MEN STRUGGLE TO HAUL ARTILLERY UP A MOUNTAIN ROAD IN EASTERN TENNESSEE. (HARPER'S PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE GREAT REBELLION)

Few were sorry to see Longstreet go. All but Bragg, however, seemed troubled by any diminution of the army before the Federal buildup at Chattanooga and by the wild reshuffling of forces along the line that Longstreet's departure would necessitate. Bragg's determination to hold the Chattanooga front at all, now that Lookout Valley had been lost, struck most as foolhardy.

They were right. Bragg had committed the most egregious error of his checkered career. Without a coherent plan, he divided his army in the face of a now numerically superior foe who was about to receive even more reinforcements.

Grant passed the days following Wauhatchie more productively than did his harrowed opponent. "Having got the Army of the Cumberland in a comfortable position, I now began to look after the remainder of my new command." Unremitting pressure from Washington "to do something for Burnside's relief" and his own lack of confidence in Burnside led him to turn his attention to East Tennessee. Although many of his problems were creations of his own mind, Burnside did face considerable obstacles, as Grant readily conceded.

Grant was at a loss how to respond. Thomas's soldiers were too fagged from prolonged hunger to endure a sustained offensive. And, recalled Grant, "We had not at Chattanooga animals to pull a single piece of artillery, much less a supply train. Reinforcements could not help Burnside, because he had neither supplies nor ammunition sufficient for them; hardly, indeed, bread and meat for the men he had. There was no relief possible for him except by expelling the enemy from Missionary Ridge and about Chattanooga." And this he was in no position to do. "Nothing was left to be done but to answer Washington dispatches as best I could; urge Sherman forward . . . and encourage Burnside to hold on."

A PHOTOGRAPH OF GRANT CIRCA 1863. (CHICAGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

In truth, Sherman needed little urging during his march across northern Mississippi and Alabama. He moved with commendable swiftness until the head of his column reached Fayetteville, Tennessee, on November 8. There, his command ran up against an extension of the Cumberland Mountains. It was seventy miles between the Army of the Tennessee and Stevenson, Alabama, as the crow flies—nearly one hundred should Sherman choose to follow the line of the railroad, which began at Fayetteville, turned east to Winchester, and then ran south to Stevenson.

Sherman elected to follow the latter route. Even so, his army confronted obstacles similar to those that had wrecked countless wagon trains of the Army of the Cumberland along Walden's Ridge. Five days were lost covering the sixty miles between Fayetteville and Winchester. Beyond Winchester the route was a series of precipitous ascents and dizzying declines. Then, on November 14, the rains returned—hard and cold.

As steadily as the rain came telegrams from Washington, exhorting Grant to action. Grant shared his concern with his friend Sherman: "The enemy have moved a great part of their force from this point toward Burnside. I am anxious to see your old corps here at the earliest moment." On November 13, after Sherman's command arrived at Bridgeport, Grant urged him to hurry ahead to Chattanooga by himself. Sherman boarded a steamboat bound for Kelley's Ferry that night.

Grant had plenty of time on his hands during the two weeks between the Wauhatchie fight and Sherman's arrival at Bridgeport. He turned over to Smith and Thomas responsibility for developing the details of the plan that would place Sherman's army in a position to attack Bragg's right flank on the north end of Missionary Ridge. But he made it clear that no plan would be adopted until Sherman approved it.

Skeptical of the scheme, Thomas conceded the initiative to Smith, who seized it with his usual vigor. Beginning on November 8, he made daily rides north of Chattanooga, reconnoitering the ground from Brown's Ferry to the knoll opposite the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek.

Smith's analysis of the terrain revealed two critical facts. First, although the enemy on Lookout Mountain would have a clear view of Sherman's army when it crossed the bridge at Brown's Ferry, the column would disappear from sight after it passed Moccasin Point and entered the foothills along the north bank of the river opposite Chattanooga. As Grant put it, the Rebels "would be at a loss to know whether they were moving to Knoxville or held on the north side of the river for future operations at Chattanooga." Second, Smith's study showed that the northern end of Missionary Ridge was lightly defended. Only a handful of cavalry pickets patrolled the Confederate side of the river from the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek to the right flank of Bragg's army.

By the morning of November 14, the general plan of battle had taken shape. Subject to Sherman's blessing, it stood as follows: Roads were to be improved among the foothills north of Chattanooga to allow Sherman's troops to march rapidly to their crossing sites opposite South Chickamauga Creek. Smith, meanwhile, would assemble every available pontoon to ferry the soldiers across the Tennessee River. Once over, Sherman was to launch the main attack against Bragg's right flank, pushing on along the railroad toward Cleveland to cut the Rebel line of communications. Simultaneously, Thomas would advance directly against Missionary Ridge to pin down the bulk of the Confederate forces. Reliable intelligence suggested Bragg expected that any attack would come against his left flank. To encourage this misconception, when Sherman reached Whiteside's he was to divert his lead division in the direction of Trenton; with the rest of his command he would continue on toward Chattanooga over concealed roads. On the day of the attack—perhaps in deference to Thomas's desires—Hooker was to assault Lookout Mountain and, if possible, carry it and drive on to Rossville, to be poised to cut off a Confederate retreat southward.

Sherman reached Chattanooga on the evening of the fourteenth. The next morning he, Grant, Thomas, and Smith rode out to the hill opposite South Chickamauga Creek from which Smith earlier had "spied out the land." Leaving Grant and Thomas at the base of the hill, Smith and Sherman climbed to the top:

Smith pointed out the portion of Missionary Ridge that Sherman was to seize. Could the Ohioan carry it before Bragg was able to concentrate a force to resist him? Smith wondered. Sherman swept the country with his field glass. Yes, he said, he could take the ridge; what's more, he could seize it by 9:00 A.M. on the appointed day.


Sherman's successful crossing of the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga depended on secrecy and exacting preparations. For the latter, Grant and Sherman looked to Baldy Smith.

The party returned to headquarters. Perhaps swayed by Sherman, who of course wanted every unit he could muster to carry out his mission, Grant withdrew his support for Thomas's plan to take Lookout Mountain.

Sherman's successful crossing of the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga depended on secrecy and exacting preparations. For the latter, Grant and Sherman looked to Baldy Smith. Once again, he was up to the task. The Vermonter laid out for Sherman his concept of the operation. Sherman's command was to go into camp among the foothills north of Chattanooga, hidden from view. One brigade was to encamp beside the mouth off North Chickamauga Creek. There Smith would assemble his pontoons and float this brigade downriver to secure a landing just below the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek. There engineers would throw across a bridge over which the rest of Sherman's force would cross.

LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN FROM THE FEDERAL WORKS ON CHATTANOOGA CREEK. (LC)

Sherman's immediate objective was to turn Bragg's flank, which meant seizing that portion of Missionary Ridge between Tunnel Hill and South Chickamauga Creek. If successful, Sherman would gain control of the two railroads leading east out of Chattanooga. Loss of the rail lines, over which supplies flowed to the Confederate army, would compel Bragg "either to weaken his lines elsewhere or lose his connection with his base at Chickamauga Station," said Grant. At best, it would force him to withdraw altogether.

Longstreet's departure did little to improve either Bragg's mood or his clarity of thought. Bragg had decided to hold onto his line around Chattanooga, the strength or tactical value of which, now that Federal supplies and troops were flowing into the city unimpeded, was illusory. To do so, Bragg had slightly under 40,000 infantry and only 500 cavalry, which ruled out rapid reconnaissance beyond his flanks.

Having given up Lookout Valley as lost, Bragg opted to defend the mountain itself. On November 9, General Hardee examined the mountain with Brigadier General John Jackson, temporarily in command of Cheatham's division while the Tennessean was on leave. It had fallen to Jackson to defend Lookout Mountain. Their reconnaissance gave Hardee and Jackson little comfort. "It was agreed on all hands that the position was one extremely difficult to defense against a strong force of the enemy advancing under cover of a heavy fire," said Jackson.

On November 12, Bragg placed Carter Stevenson in command of the overall defense of Lookout and transferred his division to the summit of the mountain. Jackson was to hold the bench with his own brigade and those of Edward Walthall and John C. Moore.

THE TENNESSEE RIVER ACTED AS A RIVER HIGHWAY FOR FEDERAL SUPPLIES AND MATERIALS. THIS 1864 PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS SOLDIERS AND CITIZENS WATCHING A STEAMER GO UPRIVER. (NA)

A POST-BATTLE PHOTOGRAPH OF UNION ARMY TRANSPORTS ON THE TENNESSEE RIVER BELOW CHATTANOOGA. (LC)
Previous Top Next


 

History and Culture