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Civil War Series

The Battles for Chattanooga

   

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ORCHARD KNOB IN FEDERAL POSSESSION, NOVEMBER 23
On November 23, Grant ordered Thomas to conduct a demonstration against the Confederate picket line. The point selected was Orchard Knob. At 1:30 P.M., Wood's and Sheridan's divisions of Granger's 4th Corps advanced from the Federal lines around Chattanooga and took Orchard Knob from the surprised Confederates.

The Federal attack caused Bragg to recall Cleburne's Division. Cleburne bivouacked for the night north of Bragg's headquarters. The Confederates also began to construct fortifications on the crest of Missionary Ridge.

Sherman's troops, encamped out of sight behind hills north of Chattanooga, prepared to move to the point selected for their crossing of the Tennessee River just downstream from the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek.

Daylight on November 23 revealed the immediate objective of Wood's foray: a craggy knoll, two thousand yards east of Fort Wood, known as Orchard Knob. Rising sharply one hundred feet above the Chattanooga Valley, the knob was covered with small trees and a line of rifle pickets occupied by Rebel picket reserves.

Under chilly but crystal blue autumn skies, Wood's 8,000 infantrymen marched out of their entrenchments and formed ranks with parade ground precision. Phil Sheridan's division, under orders to protect Wood's right flank, lined up with equal exactitude. On Wood's left, Howard's Eleventh Corps extended the Federal line to Citico Creek.

By 1:15 P.M., nearly 20,000 bluecoats stood at attention in the broad valley between the opposing picket lines. Grant, Thomas, Hooker, Howard, and Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana all came out to watch the performance.

At 1:30 P.M., buglers blew the command "Forward," and Wood's and Sheridan's long lines sprang forward at the double-quick time. The Federal infantry swept across the plain, covering 800 yards before the stunned Rebels opened fire. Before they could reload, Yankee skirmishers were upon them, rounding up prisoners and pursuing the rest toward the knob.

A VIEW OF MISSIONARY RIDGE FROM ORCHARD KNOB SHORTLY AFTER THE BATTLE. (LC)

Six hundred bewildered Rebels confronted the advance of nearly 14,000 Federals. They exacted a heavy toll on the attackers, but the issue was never in doubt. Those Southerners not shot or captured retreated to the base of Missionary Ridge.

A few minutes before 3:00 P.M., Wood signaled General Thomas: "I have carried the first line of the enemy's entrenchments." What were Thomas's instructions?

Grant and Thomas consulted briefly. Both hesitated: Wood had done far more than conduct a mere reconnaissance; should he be recalled as planned? Rawlins broke the impasse: "It will have a bad effect to let them come back and try it over again." Grant took the advice: "Intrench them and send up support," he told Thomas.


As the sun set and a deep chill fell over the valley, Bragg emerged from his daze. He readjusted his lines and recalled every unit within a day's march to meet what he now realized was a serious threat against his unprotected right.

As the sun set and a deep chill fell over the valley, Bragg emerged from his daze. He readjusted his lines and recalled every unit within a day's march to meet what he now realized was a serious threat against his unprotected right. Cleburne's division, which had not yet boarded the cars at Chickamauga Station, returned after dark. General Joseph Lewis's Kentucky "Orphan Brigade" came in from guard duty at Chickamauga Station. Marcus Wright's Tennessee Brigade returned from Charleston by rail.

To shore up his right, Bragg stripped his left over the protest of Carter Stevenson, who still believed the real threat was against Lookout Mountain. Bragg wisely ignored Stevenson and ordered William H. T. Walker's division to withdraw from the base of Lookout Mountain and move along Missionary Ridge to the far right, taking position a quarter mile south of Tunnel Hill. To command this now critical sector, Bragg called upon William Hardee, who turned over the extreme left to Stevenson.

Stevenson assumed command of affairs west of Chattanooga Creek reluctantly. He sent a brigade of Jackson's division and Cummings's brigade to close the gap in the valley that Walker's departure had opened. He told Walthall to deploy his 1,500 Mississippians so as to picket the mountain and retain a reserve sufficient to help Moore hold the main line near the Cravens house.

MAJOR GENERAL JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE (LC)

LIEUTENANT GENERAL WILLIAM J. HARDEE (BL)

Having done what he felt he could for the left and right, Bragg turned his attention to the center of the army, which he had entrusted to Breckinridge. After two months in front of Chattanooga, the two generals finally realized that it might be prudent to fortify the crest of Missionary Ridge. Breckinridge ordered Bate to begin digging at daylight. Hardee told Anderson to do likewise. Both Hardee and Breckinridge recalled their cannon from the valley, while their chiefs of artillery tried in the dark to select the firing positions they should have reconnoitered weeks earlier.

Neither Bragg, Breckinridge, nor Hardee apparently was ready to commit himself entirely to the defense of the crest of Missionary Ridge should an attack come against the center. Unable to decide between holding the existing rifle pits at the foot of the ridge or withdrawing to the unfortified crest, they settled on a peculiar compromise: Bate and Anderson were ordered to recall half their divisions on the crest and to leave the remainder in the rifle pits along the base. Stewart, meanwhile, was told to stretch his already attenuated line a bit farther to the right, so as to rest at the foot of Missionary Ridge a half mile south of Bragg's headquarters.

Bragg may have gone to bed that night satisfied with his dispositions. In part, his instincts had been correct. The right needed reinforcing, and quickly. But in his zeal to do so, he had left Stevenson with too few troops to hold the left. And although he at last had begun to strengthen the crest of Missionary Ridge, Bragg's and Breckinridge's decision to split the Kentuckian's corps between the top and the base negated any advantage the high ground might offer.

Thomas was as pleased as Grant with the events of November 23. Not only had his army proven to Grant that it could fight, but he had won a concession from the commanding general. Hard use and rising waters had torn apart the pontoon bridge at Brown's Ferry, stranding the last of Sherman's units, Brigadier General Peter Osterhaus's division, in Lookout Valley. When it became clear that Osterhaus would be unable to cross for at least twelve hours, Grant ordered him to report to Hooker. The brigades of Walter Whitaker and William Grose were also trapped in Lookout Valley.

The three divisions now congregating in Lookout Valley were more than enough for a simple diversion against the Confederates, so Grant acceded to Thomas's demand that a more serious effort be made against Lookout Mountain. He stopped short of giving permission for a full-scale assault; Hooker, he cautioned, should "take the point only if his demonstration should develop its practicability."

SHERMAN WAS TO CROSS THE TENNESSEE RIVER NEAR THIS POINT. (USAMHI)

Such subtleties were lost on Hooker. In his orders to Geary for November 24, Hooker said nothing of a mere demonstration; Geary was to take Lookout Mountain, plain and simple. He was to set off at dawn, cross Lookout Creek above Wauhatchie, and march down the valley, "sweeping every Rebel from it." Whitaker's brigade would accompany him; Grose's brigade and Osterhaus's division would cross the creek near its mouth. The two forces were to converge on the point of Lookout. Once he controlled the mountain, Hooker intended to drive his united command through Chattanooga Valley against Bragg's extreme left near Rossville.

Sherman declined Grant's offer to delay the offensive one day more to allow Osterhaus to rejoin his corps; Sherman was sure he could succeed with the three divisions on hand.

During the afternoon, Sherman's troops marched from their concealed camps to their assigned staging areas. The brigade of Brigadier General Giles Smith was to take to the boats in North Chickamauga Creek. Joseph Lightburn's brigade of the same division and Ewing's division were to assemble behind the high hills opposite South Chickamauga Creek.

The operation was to begin at midnight. Giles Smith's brigade was to float down the Tennessee, land just above South Chickamauga Creek, and then disarm the Rebel pickets posted near its mouth. After Smith's men disembarked, the empty boats would bring over the rest of Sherman's force. Lightburn's brigade and John Smith's division were to entrench on high ground along the east bank of the river, while Ewing's division was ferried over.

Once everybody was organized on the east bank, the three divisions would advance against the northern extreme of Missionary Ridge.

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