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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
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
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
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
A VIEW OF MISSIONARY RIDGE FROM ORCHARD KNOB SHORTLY AFTER THE BATTLE.
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
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
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
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
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
Once everybody was organized on the east bank, the three divisions
would advance against the northern extreme of Missionary Ridge.