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THE BATTLE OF LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, NOVEMBER 24|
Federal troops under Sherman began crossing the Tennessee River just
below the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek before dawn. That afternoon,
Sherman advanced toward the north end of Missionary Ridge to attack the
Confederate right flank but found the topography and Confederate troop
dispositions different than what had been expected. Sherman was not
successful in rolling up the Confederate right.
On the Confederate left, Federals under Hooker attacked and drove the
Confederates from the slopes of Lookout Mountain. Geary's and Cruft's
divisions swept northward toward and around the northern tip of the
mountain. Joined by Osterhaus's Division, they drove the Confederates
before them and forced the Southerners to abandon their remaining
positions on Lookout Mountain that night.
The crossing began on schedule, and by 6:30 A.M. Sherman had two
divisions assembled less than two miles from Missionary Ridge. A mile
and a half to the south, General Howard was preparing to send Bushbeck's
brigade north along the river road to open communications with him. And
John Smith had discovered a second, more commanding ridge 500 yards east
of the one he had fortified. He seized it without opposition. Not a
single Rebel could be seen in the fields to his front. At a minimum, a
strong reconnaissance into the woods beyond seemed in order. Yet
Sherman hesitated, unwilling to move until Ewing was up. He told Smith
to fortify the ridge, and the morning slipped quietly away.
Bragg was in the saddle shortly after daybreak. He rode north along
Missionary Ridge examining his lines with satisfaction when, through the
lifting fog, he saw, two miles across the valley, the divisions of John
Smith and Morgan Smith digging in at the mouth of South Chickamauga
Creek and Bushbeck's brigade filing north to join them.
No doubt Bragg was stunned. He had not expected a movement against
his right emanating from a point so far to the north. But even now, with
proof of Grant's intentions there before him, Bragg faltered; perhaps
Sherman's crossing was merely a feint. The measures he took during the
morning were stopgaps, reflecting an uncertainty as profound as that of
Sherman. Bragg had ample troops at hand with which to contest Sherman's
advance: Cleburne's division, reinforced by the Orphan Brigade, lay
bivouacked behind Bragg's headquarters. But Bragg told Cleburne to send
only one brigade to the far right. When Marcus Wright's brigade reached
Chickamauga Station at 8:30 A.M., Bragg ordered him to march to the
mouth of South Chickamauga Creek to "resist any enemy attempt to
cross"a bizarre order since Sherman already had five times as many
troops over as Wright had in his brigade.
Bragg did nothing more. Only two brigades, neither within supporting
distance of the other, moved to resist an advance by three divisions,
supported by a fourth under Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis.
Bragg had handed Sherman the chance to destroy his army; the Ohioan
let it slip through his fingers. As the morning passed, he kept the two
Smiths busy digging in while waiting for Ewing to cross the river.
Howard cantered up to the head of Bushbeck's column at noon. Less
certain that he could succeed without reinforcements, Sherman
convinced Howard to leave Bushbeck with him.
GENERAL WILLIAM T. SHERMAN (NPS)|
At 1:30 P.M., with less than four hours of gray daylight remaining,
Sherman advanced. Less than a mile and a half of fields, forest, and
swamps stood between Sherman and the high hills at the northern extreme
of Missionary Ridge. Displaying uncommon trepidation, Sherman moved at a
snail's pace, constantly looking to his right for any sign of Rebels
bounding down from Missionary Ridge to take him in the flank.
But there was not a Confederate within two miles of Sherman's flank.
Before noon, Bragg had ridden off toward Lookout Mountain without taking
any further action to strengthen his right. Nor did Hardee act until
Sherman's massed Federals marched out into the fields, at which time he
ordered Cleburne to move his remaining three brigades with all haste
toward the right of Missionary Ridge, "near the point where the
[railroad] tunnel passes through."
The nexus of the line Hardee hoped to hold with Gist and Cleburne was
Tunnel Hill (so named by Cleburne in his report). The highest point
along the northern stretch of Missionary Ridge, Tunnel Hill rose 250
yards north of the Chattanooga and Cleveland Railroad tunnel. The next
piece of ground to the north were two detached hills that formed a
U-shaped eminence much higher than Tunnel Hill.
Cleburne had just inspected the ground around Tunnel Hill when a
courier announced that the Yankees were marching up the far slope of
the eastern hill. Cleburne ordered the Texas Brigade of Brigadier
General James Smith across Tunnel Hill and up the near slope of the
detached hill. In a ravine between the elevations, the Texans collided
with Yankee skirmishers. Smith halted on the summit of Tunnel Hill and
kept the Federals occupied while Cleburne deployed the rest of his
division. He arrayed Mark Lowrey's brigade to the left of Smith and sent
Daniel Govan to the east-west spur north of the railroad to protect
Smith's right flank and rear.
GENERAL HOOKER (SECOND FROM RIGHT, STANDING) AND STAFF IN THE SHADOW OF
LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN. (USAMHI)|
Sherman's actions in the first crucial minutes after contact was made
were deplorable. He had made a terrible error. Through a combination of
poor maps and negligent reconnaissance, Sherman had marched from the
river convinced that the detached hills were the northern extreme of
Missionary Ridge. Not until the lead brigades of his three divisions
consolidated on the summit of the eastern bill did Sherman, looking
toward Smith's Texans drawn up on Tunnel Hill, realize his mistake.
With fifty minutes of daylight remainingenough time to have driven
Cleburne's badly attenuated line across the railroad and probably have
forced Bragg to abandon his entire Missionary Ridge
positionSherman chose the safe course: he ordered his men to dig
in for the night.
Fighting Joe Hooker had not the slightest doubt that he could take
Lookout Mountain. Scouts, deserters, and simple observation had given
him an excellent feel for Confederate dispositions, numerical strength,
and vulnerabilities. Hooker dismissed any direct attempt at dislodging
Stevenson from the summit; his position there would become untenable, in
any case, once Hooker swept around the bench.
Hooker and his staff worked until after midnight perfecting their
plans. Attention to detail was imperative, as Hooker's force consisted
of three divisions from three different corps, none of which had fought
At 3:00 A.M. on November 24, Geary received his orders to "cross
Lookout Creek and to assault Lookout Mountain, marching down the
valley and sweeping every rebel from it." He was to break camp at
daylight. Colonel Whitaker got his orders at the same time. He roused
his men at 4:00 A.M. for the two-hour march to Wauhatchie, where they
would join up with Geary. Colonel Grose was instructed to effect a
lodgment on the far bank of Lookout Creek near the mouth. To General
Osterhaus went a supporting role. Williamson's brigade was to protect
the artillery that Hooker was gathering on the hills near the mouth of
Lookout Creek; Woods's brigade would cover Grose and cross the creek
after him, then ascend the slope and form a junction with the left of
Geary's division as it worked its way around the mountain.
Hooker left little to chance. During the night, he brought forward
all available artillery to pulverize the Rebel pickets and cover the
advance of his own infantry. By daybreak, he had nine batteries lined up
between Light's Mill and the mouth of Lookout Creek. Two batteries from
the Army of the Cumberland lent their support from Moccasin Point; two
others set up near Chattanooga Creek.
UNION SOLDIERS BRIDGE LOOKOUT CREEK. (BL)|
General Walthall had no idea that a quarter of Grant's artillery was
trained on his brigade, but he could feel the cold tingle of impending
calamity in the misty dawn air. General Moore was even more pessimistic
than Walthall: "No serious effort has been made to construct defensive
works for our forces on the mountain."
The man in overall command, Carter Stevenson, could offer his
subordinates little. He was unfamiliar with the ground and was not even
sure that Bragg really wanted him to stay on the mountain.
Dawn came at 6:30 A.M. High water and a fast current delayed Geary's
crossing of Lookout Creek until 8:30 A.M. The fog had thickened,
observed Geary with satisfaction: "Drifting clouds enveloped the whole
ridge of the mountain top, and heavy mists and fogs obscured the slope
from lengthened vision."
A little after 9:30 A.M., the bugles sounded "Forward" and
Geary's skirmishers disappeared into the fog and timber. For nearly an
hour the Federals slipped and stumbled along the craggy western slope of
Colonel George Cobham's brigade filed across a footbridge over
Lookout Creek first. Next over was Colonel David Ireland, whose brigade
faced to the front midway up the slope to form the center of Geary's
line of battle. Colonel Charles Candy's brigade crossed the creek next
and extended Geary's left down to the base of the mountain. Walter
Whitaker brought his brigade over Lookout Creek last and formed 300
yards to the rear of Geary.
A little after 9:30 A.M., the bugles sounded "Forward" and Geary's
skirmishers disappeared into the fog and timber. For nearly an hour the
Federals slipped and stumbled along the craggy western slope of Lookout.
Finally, at 10:30 A.M., the rattle of musketry from the skirmish line
announced that contact had been made. Geary's skirmishers had struck
Walthall's pickets one mile southwest of the point. The Rebels held on,
but their line was stretched far too thin to offer prolonged resistance.
Geary's main line came up without much trouble, and the pressure on the
Mississippians became unbearable. As the Federals closed to within a few
yards, the Rebels broke. Dozens were hit, and scores more
THE BATTLE OF LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, THE SCENE FROM LOOKOUT VALLEY
ILLUSTRATION BY THEODORE R. DAVIS. (LC)|
UNION SOLDIERS CLIMBING THE SLOPES OF LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN. (LC)|
As Geary's line came in sight and the Rebel pickets began trickling
from their breastworks, Hooker ordered his artillery to saturate the
enemy's line of retreat along the mountainside. Hooker's intentions were
good but, up in the dusky forest toward which his cannoneers trained
their pieces, the opposing lines were on top of one another. Smoke and
fog hid the action from those in the valley, making the aim of the
artillerymen uncertain at best.
About 11:30 A.M., the wild Yankee pursuit came to an abrupt halt 300
yards southwest of the point of Lookout Mountain when Ireland and Cobham
ran into Walthall's two-regiment reserve, posted between the base of
the cliff and the Cravens house. Though badly outnumbered, the
Mississippians gave a good account of themselves, throwing back
Ireland's first attempt at storming their works.
With Geary and his staff on foot far to the rear, Ireland and Cobham
acted on their own to meet this unexpected resistance. Outnumbered four
to one and outflanked on both the right and left, Walthall's second
line of resistance disintegrated. Walthall tried to rally the men, but
few paid him any attention. All order was lost as the Mississippians
spilled rearward, past Walthall, around the point of the mountain, and
back toward the Cravens house.
At 12:10 P.M. Ireland and Cobham rounded the point of Lookout
Mountain and drove eastward along the bench toward the Cravens
The Federals kept on past the Cravens house after Walthall's
survivors who were disappearing into the fog. Uncertain of what lurked
in the mist-shrouded trees beyond the Cravens place, Ireland's New
Yorkers wheeled to the right and trod southeastward along the slope. Off
to their left were Chattanooga Valley and the entrenchments of the Army
of the Cumberland.
Geary's appearance below the point of Lookout Mountain at noon was
the signal for Hooker to set in motion the brigades of Charles Woods
and William Grose, which were poised on the west bank of Lookout Creek,
ready to cross a footbridge. While Cobham and Ireland cleared the upper
reaches of the mountain, Candy's brigade swept the ground between the
base of Lookout Mountain and the east bank of the creek.
Shortly before noon, Candy passed through the marshy field opposite
the footbridge, clearing the way for Woods and Grose. Woods advanced
eastward, while Grose ascended the slope. The belated advance of Woods
and Grose spelled doom for the last of Walthall's regiments. Crouched
behind the railroad embankment near the turnpike bridge, the
Thirty-fourth Mississippi was cut off from the forces on the bench by
the Federal crossing, and virtually the entire regiment surrendered.
With them were 200 men from Moore's picket line, taken from behind by
AN 1889 LITHOGRAPH OF THE BATTLE OF LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN. (LC)|
General Moore caught a glimpse of his picket line withering, but he
had more pressing concerns on the bench, where the remainder of his
brigade stood, 400 yards south of the Cravens house. Ninety minutes had
passed before Moore received an answer from Mudwall Jackson to a 9:30
A.M. inquiry asking where he should deploy his brigade. Jackson was
incredulous: Did Moore not recall the plan of the night before to defend
the line at the Cravens house? Moore was reluctant to move. He applied
to Walthall for reassurances that the Mississippian would be on his left
when Moore brought his own brigade forward. Walthall could not
answerhe was being overwhelmed too quickly to promise
There was bungling aplenty among the Confederate commanders on
Lookout Mountain, but no one displayed greater negligence than Jackson.
He remained glued to his headquarters, a mile behind the line he had
been charged to defend. Jackson lacked even the presence of mind to call
for reinforcements; Stevenson had to offer them. When the roll of rifle
volleys announced Walthall's clash with Geary at 12:30 P.M., Stevenson
ordered Brigadier General Edmund Pettus to take three of his regiments
down from the summit and report to Jackson.
STORMING AND CAPTURE OF LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN IS THE TITLE OF THIS
PERIOD LITHOGRAPH. (LC)|
THIS ILLUSTRATION FROM HARPER'S WEEKLY WAS TITLED GENERAL
HOOKER FIGHTING AMONG THE CLOUDS. (LC)|
By then, Moore was moving. As they neared the Cravens yard, his
Alabamians met the remnants of Walthall's brigade rushing to the rear.
Instead of finding the stone wall to their front, Moore and his men
glimpsed Ireland's New Yorkers through the drizzle. Both sides opened
fire at a range of 100 yards. The thick mist disguised Moore's small
numbers, and the New Yorkers retreated beyond the stone wall. Moore
settled his men in behind it and in the rifle pits it screened.
Moore put up a good fight. He stretched his 1,000 men as thin as he
felt he could behind the entrenchments, from the Cravens house down the
mountainside, and awaited the Yankee counterattack.
It was slow in coming. Ireland's men were dazed and tired. They lay
down along the western fringe of the Cravens yard, protected from
Moore's fire by the fog and a dip in the ground.
Whitaker's brigade arrived behind Ireland's stalled line a little
after 1:00 P.M. His men were spoiling for a fight, and they swept over
the supine New Yorkers and into the yard.
Moore was woefully outnumberedWhitaker alone had 500 more men
than he didand the odds were getting worse. To Moore's right
front, Candy's brigade was clambering up the mountainside to regain its
connection with Ireland's left. To Candy's left and rear were the
brigades of Woods and Grose. Although not yet near enough to attack
Moore, the Federal line clearly extended far beyond his right flank: "It
became evident we must either fall back or be surrounded and captured,"
surmised Moore. He chose the former course and withdrew most of his
command off in good order southward, toward the Summertown road.
Their front clear, Whitaker's men whooped and hopped over the stone
wall. Whitaker wanted to stop there, but his men surged past him.
Ireland was on the move again as well, to the left and rear of
Whitaker was not alone in wanting to call a halt. As the weather
worsened, Hooker was content merely to see Geary round the bench.
Fearful that the enemy might be reinforced and his own lines disordered
by the fog and rugged ground, he had sent word to Geary to halt for the
day before reaching the Cravens house. But Geary was on foot and too far
behind his troops to stop them, and so, as Hooker put it, "fired by
success, with a flying, panic-stricken enemy before them, they pressed
The fog slowed them, giving Moore the chance to get away and Walthall
time to form a scratch line 300 yards south of the Cravens house with
the 600 men left to him. Crouching behind boulders and fallen trees,
they kept up enough of a racket to halt Whitaker. Thirty minutes later,
they heard the tramp of Pettus's column coming up behind them.
Pettus filed his three Alabama regiments off the Cravens house road
and into line. Marching forward, they relieved Walthall's band a little
after 2:00 P.M. and fell in behind a natural breastwork of limestone
outcrop. Moore regrouped on their right.
Pettus's line was engaged instantly. For the rest of the afternoon
and well into the night, the six Alabama regiments of Pettus and Moore
traded volleys with an invisible foe. In some places, the two lines were
just thirty yards apart. At points of collision, the smoke of battle
hung in blue sheets among the naked branches of the trees until beaten
into nothing by the falling rain. The fighting degenerated into a series
of weak, half-blind punches and counterpunches in the foggy twilight.
The racket was tremendous, the lead expended prodigious, but hardly
anyone was hurt.
A MODERN-DAY VIEW FROM ATOP LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN. (NPS)|
Fighting Joe Hooker's confidence returned an hour before sunset.
Although he had told Geary earlier to dig in for the night along the
eastern slope, Hooker now announced to Grant his intention to descend
into Chattanooga Valley as soon as the fog lifted. "In all probability
the enemy will evacuate tonight. His line of retreat is seriously
threatened by my troops."
The fog never lifted, so Hooker was not put to the test. Hooker may
have embarrassed himself with his blustering, but he had correctly
guessed Bragg's intentions.
Down in Chattanooga Valley, Bragg was furiousat a loss to
understand how Stevenson, with six brigades at his disposal, could have
failed to hold the bench and slope of Lookout Mountain. Now Stevenson
was begging for another brigade in order to avert total defeat. Bragg
granted the request conditionallythe brigade sent over was to be
used to cover Stevenson's withdrawal. Bragg would do no more. To him,
the battle effectively was over and Lookout Mountain lost. At 2:30 P.M.,
he instructed Stevenson to withdraw from the mountain to the east side
of Chattanooga Creek.
As Bragg left the timing and manner of the withdrawal to his
discretion, Stevenson decided not to risk breaking contact with the
Federals on the eastern slope until the troops on the summit made good
their escape. Walthall, Pettus, and Moore would have to hold onall
night if necessaryto keep open the Summertown road, the only means
of egress into Chattanooga Valley.
The senseless firing on the mountainside continued, alternately
sputtering and swelling. Union regiments were moved in and out of the
line during the night so that everyone on the mountain eventually had a
hand in the fight.
Down in the valley, near Chattanooga Creek, Breckinridge, Stevenson,
Jackson, and the recently returned Ben Franklin Cheatham met at the
Gillespie house at 8:00 P.M. Cheatham was lividJackson had nearly
destroyed two of his brigades. Breckinridge yielded the floor and left,
and Cheatham took charge of the meeting. He concluded the business
rapidly. Cheatham told Stevenson to remove his own and Cheatham's
divisions from the west side of Chattanooga Creek and stand by on the
east bank while Cheatham searched out Bragg for further orders.
Bragg, meanwhile, was absorbed in a meeting of his own. Breckinridge
had ridden directly from the Gillespie house to army headquarters. There
he, Bragg, and Hardee fell into a largely futile discussion of how they
might recoup their losses of the day. The situation was grim. With
Lookout Mountain lost and Sherman menacing Tunnel Hill, both flanks were
in danger. Another setback on either flank threatened the whole army.
Outnumbered two to one, Bragg barely had enough troops to reinforce one
flank. Finally, South Chickamauga Creek was swelling rapidly from the
steady rains, jeopardizing Bragg's line of retreat.
Bragg had no idea what to do. He turned to Hardee and Breckinridge
for advice. Hardee was all for conceding Chattanooga. The army, he said,
should cut its losses and withdraw across South Chickamauga Creek.
Breckinridge disagreed vehemently. There was no time that night for such
a move, which certainly would be discovered. In falling back,
Breckinridge continued, the army would be subject to defeat in detail
after daybreak. Furthermore, he said, Missionary Ridge was an
inherently strong position.
Bragg endorsed Breckinridge's petition to hold fast on Missionary
Ridge. Hardee argued a bit longer for a withdrawal but finally
relented. He convinced himself that the natural strength of Missionary
Ridge was sufficient to deter a direct assault against the center or
left. Hardee decided that the real threat would come from Sherman
against the right flank, which he argued was also the most vulnerable
part of the Confederate line.
Bragg agreed. He promised to send Cheatham and Stevenson to reinforce
the right during the night. Hardee would command the four divisions on
the rightthose of Cleburne, Walker, Stevenson, and Cheatham.
Anderson's division was too far to the left for Hardee to devote
adequate attention both to it and to the expected fight around Tunnel
Hill. Consequently, it was reassigned to Breckinridge. The Kentuckian
was to order Stewart up from Chattanooga Valley and onto the ridge at
once; responsibility for guarding the extreme left at Rossville Gap
would rest with Stewart.
A POST-BATTLE PHOTOGRAPH OF FEDERAL TROOPS EXAMINING THE BATTLEFIELD AND
THE RUINS OF THE CRAVENS HOUSE HALFWAY UP LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN. (THE WESTERN
RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY)|