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Civil War Series

The Battles for Chattanooga

   

Churned by fears that Sherman had failed in his attack and that Hooker was fatally stalled along Chattanooga Creek, all present were absorbed in a tennsion more palpable than the shell fragments that rained on the knob.



Thomas stood apart, in watching their going with trepidation. To his way of thinking, Grant intended to sacrifice the Army of the Cumberland in a quixotic effort to salvage Sherman.

Seldom did the war witness a more anxious gathering of surly senior officers than Grant, Thomas, and their staffs atop Orchard Knob. Churned by fears that Sherman had failed in his attack and that Hooker was fatally stalled along Chattanooga Creek, all present were absorbed in a tension more palpable than the shell fragments that rained on the knob.

By mid-afternoon, Grant had run out of ideas. After much debate, Grant gave Wood these orders: "If you and Sheridan advance your divisions to the foot of the ridge, and there halt, I think it will menace Bragg's forces so as to relieve Sherman." Wood agreed to try.

Preparations were made to assault the ridge. Corps commander Gordon Granger explained the details of the plan to Wood: "You and Sheridan are to advance your divisions, carry the intrenchments at the base of the ridge, if you can, and, if you succeed, halt there. The movement is to be made at once, so give your orders to your brigade commanders immediately, and the signal to advance will be the rapid, successive discharge of the six guns of the battery." Thomas stood apart, watching their going with trepidation. To his way of thinking, Grant intended to sacrifice the Army of the Cumberland in a quixotic effort to salvage Sherman.

The Confederate fortifications opposite Thomas's four divisions looked menacing enough. Arrayed along a front slightly less than three miles long were the better part of four Rebel divisions and nine batteries of artillery—approximately 16,000 men defending the seemingly impregnable heights against an attacking force of 23,000 that had nearly a mile of largely open ground to cross.

Imposing at first glance, the Confederate defenses were in reality a horribly improvised, sadly neglected patchwork. Their sorry state stemmed largely from the misplaced faith of both Bragg and Breckinridge that any serious attack would come only against the army's flanks.

GENERALS GRANGER, GRANT, AND THOMAS (CENTER, ON RISE) ATOP ORCHARD KNOB OBSERVE THE ADVANCE OF THE ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND. PAINTING BY THURE DE THULSTRUP. (LC)

The flaws in the Confederate defenses were numerous. Bragg and Breckinridge had waited until November 23 to begin fortifying the ridge. That night, Breckinridge ordered breastworks built along the crest and Patton Anderson to supply the troops to construct them. With the apparent concurrence of Bragg, he issued a second order that took Anderson by surprise. He was to leave half of his division in the trenches at the foot of Missionary Ridge and withdraw the remainder to defend the crest. Zachariah Deas was to command the former troops, Anderson those atop the ridge.

Oddly, Breckinridge gave no such instructions to Bate or Stewart. He made no provision to withdraw any part of Bate's two brigades, then entrenched at the base, or to remove his artillery. Stewart also was left in the valley with his division.

Neither Anderson nor his brigade commanders Deas and Arthur Manigault cared for Breckinridge's plan; splitting the division between two lines struck them as the height of folly. Nor was the line chosen on the crest appropriate, being too far back to be of much use. There were too many undulations, projections, descents, and ravines to provide an adequate field of fire along the whole ridge.

A SECTION OF THE SUMMIT OF MISSIONARY RIDGE IS SEEN IN THIS WARTIME PHOTOGRAPH. (USAMHI)

For the artillery, the problem was even more acute. Not only were the cannon run too far forward, but they were too widely dispersed.

One final, potentially fatal flaw existed in Breckinridge's attenuated sector: he had no reserves with which to plug any hole that the Federals might punch into the narrow crest. Every man was committed, either to the rifle pits at the foot of Missionary Ridge or the breastworks atop it.


(click on image for a PDF version)
THE BATTLE OF MISSIONARY RIDGE, NOVEMBER 25
With the loss of Lookout Mountain on November 24 and the appearance of Sherman on the Confederate right flank, Bragg withdrew his troops to Missionary Ridge.

At mid-morning, Sherman began a series of attacks against Confederates under Cleburne stationed on Tunnel Hill. Cleburne was able to blunt each of the Federal attacks, preventing Sherman from rolling up the Confederate right. Hooker began a successful assault northward from Rossville Gap, driving in the Confederate left.

So matters stood until the morning of November 25, when Thomas pushed forward his skirmishers to test the strength of Deas's defenses. They were repulsed after a sharp fight, but their probe demonstrated that the Yankees might do what Bragg and Breckinridge found unimaginable: attack the center in force. The two still were unwilling to abandon the flat, but they struck a bizarre compromise with Brigadier General Zachariah Deas, who commanded part of the forces on the flat. Should the enemy advance in force, Deas's troops—and all others on the flat—were to hold their position until the Yankees approached to within 200 yards, then deliver a single volley and retire up the slope, skirmishing as they climbed. What such a tactic might accomplish, short of blocking the line of fire of those at the top and exhausting the men at the bottom, neither Bragg nor Breckinridge ventured to explain.

On the plain beyond Missionary Ridge, blue-clad troops by the thousands assembled. Rebel artillery from the crest boomed its greeting. As long as they were in the timber, the Federals knew they were fairly safe: the woods would provide at least a modicum of shelter for half the distance of their advance. But over the final 300 to 700 yards of the plain the Rebels had chopped down every last tree, both for firewood and to open a field of fire. From the rifle pits to the physical base of the ridge was a plateau about 100 yards wide, upon which the Confederates had built a cluster of huts.

FEDERAL ENGINEERS REBUILT THIS RAILROAD BRIDGE AT WHITESIDE, TENNESSEE, OUTSIDE OF CHATTANOOGA AFTER THE BATTLE, CHATTANOOGA WOULD SERVE AS AN IMPORTANT BASE OF OPERATIONS FOR FUTURE CAMPAIGNS IN GEORGIA, (LC)

Granger told his division commanders to deploy with all their brigades on line. Each brigade was to cover itself with a double line of skirmishers and maintain a strong reserve. All was ready by 3:00 P.M. Baird assembled on the left of Wood. Edward H. Phelps's brigade was arrayed on the extreme left of Baird's line, opposite Alfred Vaughan's brigade of Anderson's Rebel division. Ferdinand Van Derveer held Baird's center, and John Turchin formed his brigade on the right.

Wood deployed his division with Sam Beatty on the left, August Willich in the center, and William Hazen on the right of his division. Phil Sheridan had George Wagner, Charles Harker, and Francis Sherman lined up from left to right. Harker's command assembled a mile west of Bragg's headquarters.

Grant ordered Thomas's Army of the Cumberland to seize the Confederate rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. Troops of Granger's and Palmer's corps swept forward, captured the rifle pits, and then continued up the slopes of Missionary Ridge to the crest. In so doing, they broke the Confederate line and forced Bragg into a withdrawal from the Chattanooga area.

On Granger's right, Palmer's Fourteenth Corps was represented solely by Richard Johnson's division. Johnson formed the brigades of William Stoughton and William Carlin in line of battle, leaving that of Starkweather behind to man the fortifications.

The men were formed quickly, but several senior officers in both the Fourth and Fourteenth corps were confused about what was expected of them. They were unsure how far they were supposed to advance or what to do when they got to where they were going. Grant's order to halt at the rifle pits at the base of the ridge was misunderstood by far too many of the generals charged with executing it. Some doubted the order because they thought it absurd to stop an attack at the instant when the attackers would be most vulnerable both to fire from the crest and to a counterattack. Others apparently received garbled versions of the order.

Baird got the correct version; he simply couldn't believe it. So he decided to go for the summit. Wood said he received the correct order directly from Granger and that he then called together his brigade commanders to repeat it to them verbatim. But something went wrong. Hazen and every man in his brigade understood the task at hand. Sam Beatty may have understood the order as well, but his front-line regimental commanders were unsure where they were to stop. Willich swore that he only learned several days afterward that the order had been "to take only the rifle pits at the foot of the ridge."

MAJOR GENERAL GORDON GRANGER (USAMHI)

Phil Sheridan was thoroughly befuddled. His confusion about the objective trickled down to his subordinates, who went forward blindly. And Richard Johnson had only a vague idea what was about to happen, which left his brigade commanders largely on their own. "My instructions were not very definite," said William Carlin. So he came up with his own. Riding along his line of battle, he shouted: "Boys, I don't want you to stop until we reach the top of that hill."

Twenty-three thousand officers and men lay in line of battle in Chattanooga Valley, waiting for the inevitable six-gun volley that would sound the march to whatever awaited them. It came at about 3:30 P.M. The first moments of the advance passed in silence. Then, through the branches of the naked trees, the Federals saw bright flames spew from the ridge and strands of dull gray smoke curl upward. An instant later, a crash like a thousand thunderclaps shook the valley. Attackers and defenders alike were deafened. None had ever heard such a cannonading in mountainous country before.

The air was sibilant with screaming shells, but the Confederate artillerymen overshot their targets. Some Yankee regiments lost not a man to the cannonade; most, fewer than a dozen. As the Federals emerged from the timber, they caught sight of the Rebel rifle pits. A grand, spontaneous cheer swept along the Union line. Just as spontaneously, the Yankees accelerated their pace from the quick time to the double-quick time. Some regiments burst into an uncontrolled run.

The Confederate withdrawal from the rifle pits was even more ragged than the Federal advance toward them. Some units withdrew after firing one volley; others stayed and fought it out until they were overrun; most ran as soon as they were able. When the survivors reached the crest, their presence wrought chaos. Their wild pushing and shoving as they tried to get to the rear frightened and demoralized their comrades on the crest. The Federals below were only slightly better off. Panting and coughing, they collapsed in the abandoned rifle pits.

THIS SKETCH BY THEODORE DAVIS SHOWS THE WIDE EXPANSE OF MISSIONARY RIDGE AS THE FOURTH CORPS UNDER GRANGER PREPARES ITS ADVANCE. (LC)

UNION SOLDIERS STORMING MISSIONARY RIDGE. (LC)

Yankee skirmishers got to the rifle pits first. In about ten minutes the first-line regiments of each brigade joined them, creating a momentary jumble of bluecoats two miles long. Brigade commanders halted their subsequent lines out on the flat. They did so reluctantly, understanding that the Rebel artillery fire, until then ineffectual, would improve in accuracy with each minute their men lay in the open.

Meanwhile, the rifle pits themselves were proving death traps. As soon as the last of their comrades cleared their front, the Confederates on the crest sent volleys into the midst of the clustered Yankees. Then the greater portion of the Confederate artillery turned its attention from the flat to the rifle pits, changing their ammunition from shot and shell to canister.

In every mind there arose one thought: get out of the rifle pits immediately. For some commanders, of course, there really was no decision to be made; they incorrectly had understood Grant's order to be to seize the summit. For others, a continued advance at least to the base of the ridge—from 200 to 400 yards away—seemed the only alternative to slaughter. There the contours of the slope would provide some cover from the rain of bullets, and its steepness would prevent the Rebel artillerymen from depressing their cannon tubes sufficiently to hit anyone.

In the first critical moments after taking the rifle pits, then, Thomas's four divisions moved independently of one another. Even brigades splintered as regimental commanders took the course of action that seemed most promising.

To August Willich went the honor of reaching the rifle pits first, a few minutes after 4:00 P.M. Willich had no intention of halting in them: "It was evident to everyone that to stay in this position would be certain destruction and final defeat; every soldier felt the necessity of saving the day and the campaign by conquering, and everyone saw instinctively that the only place of safety was in the enemy's works on the crest." Sam Beatty's brigade reached the rifle pits a few minutes after Willich. He too went up the slope full tilt. On the division right, Hazen also took his cue from Willich.

Sheridan was at least five minutes behind Wood in reaching the rifle pits. Wagner's brigade hit the pits a few moments before Harker and Sherman. The works were empty; the Rebels already were well on their way to the crest. In keeping with his assumption that Missionary Ridge was the objective, Wagner urged his men up the slope. Wagner's impetuous push inspired the regiments of Harker's brigade, and they also started upward. So too did Francis Sherman, but far more slowly, as his brigade faced a much steeper ascent. Cursing and swinging his sword, Sheridan rode along the edge of the rifle pits on a big black horse, slapping at skulkers.

Facing the steepest portion of the ridge, Richard Johnson's two brigades edged forward tentatively, preferring the cover of the Rebel huts on the plain to the uncertainties of the slope.

On the Union left, Baird too had run into trouble. The brigades of Phelps and Van Derveer reached and cleared the lower rifle pits ten minutes after Wood's division had done the same on their right. But Turchin's brigade was still hurrying across the flat, trying to catch up. Perhaps because Turchin was lagging behind, Phelps and Van Derveer elected to halt their first line at the rifle pits. Both also directed their second-line regiments to lie down back on the flat. Fortunately, neither line suffered much. Vaughan's Tennesseans were retreating, masking their comrades on the crest, so that their fire at Phelps was erratic. And the artillery was "harmless but annoying."

Turchin had no intention of stopping at the rifle pits. His men reached them even more winded than their comrades to their left, but Turchin ordered them on; with or without support, he would obey Baird's order to seize the crest.

It was 4:10 P.M. when Turchin started up the ridge, just thirty minutes after the signal guns had barked. Baird, Wood, Sheridan, and Johnson all wrestled with their own worries, giving little thought to the problems of the others. The craggy texture of the slope saved hundreds of Federal lives by preventing the Confederates along the summit from getting a good aim at the ascending enemy. At the same time, it made a burlesque of unit integrity among the attackers. Regiments broke up, but "the men formed and fought under any commander who was near and who was headed towards the enemy," said an Ohioan. "All regular formations were soon lost," agreed a Kansan. "Great masses of men, who had crowded together in the places easiest of ascent, were climbing the steep at intervals and vying in their efforts to be first."

THIS LITHOGRAPH WAS PRODUCED IN 1886 BY A MANUFACTURING COMPANY TO COMMEMORATE THE BATTLE OF MISSIONARY RIDGE. (LC)

At the head of each cluster of soldiers were regimental or national colors so that, instead of one long line, the Federal assault gave the appearance of a series of arrow-like sorties.

Breckinridge's generals could have recited a litany of woes. First, friendly troops continued to disrupt fields of fire, as scores of frightened Rebels were still struggling for the safety of the crest, many stumbling upward less than fifty yards ahead of the Yankees. Second, smoke blanketed the crest and settled in the ravines up which the Yankees were snaking. Third, those Rebels who did fire were badly overshooting their mark. Fear of hitting their own men, the blinding smoke, and a reluctance to expose themselves above the trenches caused many to squeeze off shot haphazardly. Finally, most of the batteries could no longer depress their cannon tubes to engage the Yankees. Exasperated cannoneers resorted to hurling lighted shells down the slope.


Nearer came the Federals. Puffing and perspiring, crawling on hands and knees where the incline was too sleep or rugged to walk, they dragged themselves upward.

Nearer came the Federals. Puffing and perspiring, crawling on hands and knees where the incline was too steep or rugged to walk, they dragged themselves upward. Color-bearers toppled by the dozen. The noise was terrific. "Orders could not be heard ten feet, so almost all orders of officers were given by the motion of the hand or sword," said an Ohio major. "Each soldier moved as his courage and endurance dictated."

Patton Anderson watched the approach of Wood's division with deep misgiving. He appreciated the difficulties faced by his thin line of riflemen in the entrenchments. "Owing to the confirmation of the ridge, from which several spurs projected along my front, affording cover to the attacking forces, and protecting them from any but a direct fire . . . he was enabled to advance to within a short distance of the crest with relative impunity," rued the Floridian.

It was a few minutes before 5:00 P.M. Amid the lengthening shadows, fifty yards away from the Rebel line, a small band of Willich's and Hazen's men rushed forward from behind an embankment along the Bird's Mill road. Over the log breastworks they leaped before the startled Mississippians of Colonel William Tucker could fire a shot. Panic gripped the Rebels. They ran from the works by the score. Nearly as many surrendered.

A HIGHLY DRAMATIC RENDITION BY CURRIER AND IVES OF THE INTENSE HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT ON THE TOP OF THE RIDGE. (LC)

GENERAL WILLIAM B. HAZEN (LC)

Toward the breastworks clambered the remainder of Willich's brigade. Crowding Willich's left, having scurried for the shelter of a deep ravine, was Beatty's brigade, compacted to a front nearly as small as that of a normal-sized regiment.

For an instant, the issue hung in doubt. Sixty feet short of the entrenchments, the Federals wavered—stopped by a fierce Rebel volley and their own fatigue. The arrival of Beatty's reserve restored the momentum of the attack, and the Yankees made a last dash for the breastworks. In a moment they were over, grappling briefly with Tucker's Mississippians before the mad panic that had struck Tucker's left center infected his entire line.

A few hundred feet down the ridge, the rest of Hazen's brigade came up. A fortuitous undulation in the slope helped shelter Hazen's men until they were just three yards from the breastworks. By then the Rebels had fired their final volley and had no time to reload. Over the logs climbed the Federals. "We were up the hill in a very few moments, and some of the Rebels who had been murdering our men to the last moment, rolled over on their backs and looked up in a very pitiful attitude," said Colonel James Foy, who was leading the charge.

Bragg was near Bate. The sudden appearance of Foy's Yankees left him dumbstruck; he had been congratulating Bate's men for having sent the brigades of Wagner and Harker recoiling down the ridge. Now he felt the absence of a tactical reserve. He implored Bate to spare whatever troops he could from his own breastworks to drive away the Federals and restore the break on Anderson's front.

Bate felt mortified but unable to respond. Wagner and Harker were on the move again and almost halfway up the ridge to his front, "advancing in such numbers as to forbid the displacement of any of my command."

Hazen was on the crest now, driving his reformed brigade relentlessly southward. Colonel Tyler tried to pull back his right-flank units to meet Hazen, but a bullet cut him down before he could fashion an adequate firing line. Hazen's Yankees made short work of Tyler's leaderless brigade. "The Federals [ran] over us like a herd of wild cattle," confessed one frightened Tennessean.

Wagner's brigade crowned the crest a few minutes later. No brigade suffered more in ascending Missionary Ridge than did Wagner's. He lost 730 men: three times more than did Sam Beatty and more than twice the casualties sustained by the brigades of Francis Sherman, Harker, or Willich. Only Hazen's losses of 522 came close.

Having suffered so much, the disappointment of Wagner and his troops at finding the crest virtually abandoned was almost unbearable. Everyone had wanted a chance to sink his bayonet into a Rebel.

On Wagner's right, Charles Harker and his brigade enjoyed a more stirring climax to their ninety-minute ordeal. They swarmed over the summit a minute or two before Wagner reached the crest to find the Rebel infantry had retreated. But while Harker's Federals were denied the chance to cross bayonets with the enemy, they found compensation awaiting them beyond the breastworks. There, on the narrow crest beside Bragg's headquarters, struggling to bring off their four Napoleon twelve-pounders, were the Kentuckians of Cobb's Battery. As the Federals surged toward them, most of the gunners prudently ran off. The rest gave up or were cut down.

BAIRD'S DIVISION IS SHOWN CAPTURING CONFEDERATE GUNS IN THIS DRAWING BY THEODORE DAVIS. (LC)

Bragg had been shuttling along the ridge, trying with almost comic desperation to rally first Tucker's broken brigade, then Finley's Floridians, and finally Gibson's Louisiana Brigade, which crumbled before Francis Sherman's Federals. Near the front yard of the Moore house, Bragg sat astride his horse holding a large flag, imploring men who detested the sight of him to hold their ground.

THIS PAINTING BY RICK REEVES IS OF THE FIRST TENNESSEE, WHICH FOUGHT VALIANTLY AT MISSIONARY RIDGE. (COURTESY OF COLLECTOR HISTORICAL PRINTS, TAMPA, FL.)

With nothing but blue to be seen on the crest, Bragg remounted and turned his horse rearward to join the retreating throng. In any meaningful sense, the center of his supposedly impregnable Missionary Ridge line had ceased to exist.

A SENTRY GUARDS CAPTURED CONFEDERATE GUNS AFTER THE BATTLE. (LC)

But there was still killing and running aplenty going on along the doomed sector. Francis Sherman had managed to get his men out of the rifle pits at the foot of the ridge and on their way toward a lightly defended second line partway up that was defended by elements of Strahl's Tennessee brigade. Once they got started, Sherman's men had no trouble rolling over the Tennesseans.

Sherman gave his men ten minutes to recover their strength. Then, with a rush, they swarmed out of the second trench. The Rebels fought like fiends for as long as they could, but here too the terrain betrayed the defenders. The same sharp incline that winded the Yankees also kept the Rebels from getting a clear shot without showing themselves above their low works. So, instead, they lay down and hurled rocks and lighted shells randomly downhill.

Over the top came the Federals. The Rebel infantry ran off, taunted by the same cries of "Chickamauga, Chickamauga!" they had been hurling at their foe. Throughout Sherman's brigade, exhaustion gave way to ecstasy as the men crowded around four guns of a Rebel battery abandoned in the melee.

Sherman's appearance on the crest, although as dramatic as that of any other brigade, was anticlimactic insofar as the defeat of Bate was concerned. But it did make an important contribution to dislodging Stewart, whose division at 5:15 P.M. was the only Confederate force left on the ridge south of Bragg's headquarters.

Stewart was holding on because Richard Johnson's two brigades were making no headway against the thread of a line held by Strahl's left regiments and Stovall's brigades. Stoughton's mixed brigade of regulars and volunteers was repulsed in its first effort at clearing out the Tennesseans from the rifle pits on the slope. By the time Stoughton took them, Sherman's men were going over the top. Stoughton rested his men, then drove hard to make up the lost ground. His effort halted abruptly. Though Strahl's troops on the crest were putting up a gallant resistance, their numbers alone were too few to stop the Yankees; what caused Stoughton to lag behind was the almost perpendicular wall formed by the ridge over the last two hundred feet of his front. Stoughton might have languished on the dizzying incline longer had Sherman's success on his left not compelled Strahl finally to give up his line along the crest.

ROSSVILLE GAP IN MISSIONARY RIDGE. (LC)

Brigadier General William Carlin confessed: "I started up the ridge because I saw the troops on my left going up, but who gave the original impulse it would be hard to ascertain." Carlin had made the only choice possible, but his decision was irrelevant: the men already had taken matters into their own hands. "They were like a headstrong horse with a bit in his teeth, beyond holding in," said Carlin's second-in-command, Benjamin Scribner. Carlin's brigade carried their portion of the crest at 5:30 P.M., at the cost of more perspiration than blood; Stewart had ordered Stovall to withdraw before the Yankees reached the top.

Matters were desperate on the Confederate left, where General Breckinridge had gone at 3:30 P.M. When he arrived, Colonel J. T. Holtzclaw was watching the approach of Fighting Joe Hooker's powerful Federal column from the direction of Lookout Mountain. As the Yankees crossed Chattanooga Creek and made for the undefended Rossville Gap, the key to the Confederate left flank, Breckinridge realized he would have to fend off Hooker's three divisions with Holtzclaw's five understrength Alabama regiments.

The Yankees marched through Rossville Gap, brushing aside the handful of Rebels who had been guarding the supplies and wagons at Rossville, before Breckinridge could send more troops to oppose them. Once through, the Federals regrouped for a go at the ridge itself. Hooker improvised a scheme of maneuver. He told Cruft to swing north, get onto Missionary Ridge, and then "engage the enemy vigorously in case he should be met, pressing the line rapidly northward along the ridge until the enemy was encountered." To John Geary, who was closing on Rossville, he gave orders to leave the road short of the gap and march northward along the western base of the ridge.

It was a brilliant plan, the more so for its simplicity. Cruft would take the Confederates in the flank; Geary would feel for a chance to strike a weak point from in front; and Osterhaus would net from behind any Rebels trying to flee the field.

The execution was as sound as the conception. Holtzclaw's brigade was boxed in between Hooker's three divisions and Carlin's brigade of Johnson's division. Finding Federals on all four sides, nearly all the Confederates gave up; Carlin's troops alone netted 706 officers and men.

The Federal assault on Anderson's division followed a discernible pattern. Anderson's brigades folded from south to north, as Union forces pushed them from in front and rolled up their flank. Regiments of Willich's and Beatty's brigade, after clearing Tucker's Mississippians from their front, turned captured cannon on the enemy and swept northward. Their pressure on Manigault's left flank hastened his collapse. All of these events—from the rout of Tucker to the defeat of Manigault—lasted no more than fifteen or twenty minutes.

Just as it did Manigault, the unexpected pressure on Deas's flank doomed the Alabamian. He withdrew his left regiments before the Yankees in front of them reached the crest but was too late to save either his right regiments or three of the four guns of Waters's battery.

Van Derveer joined Turchin, and together their badly intermingled brigades headed toward the last of Anderson's brigades: the four Tennessee regiments of Brigadier General Alfred Vaughan. At Anderson's behest, he peeled off two of his regiments from the breastworks in a hopeless effort at stemming Van Derveer and Turchin. The two lines blazed away at a hundred yards until the Tennesseans ran out of ammunition. Vaughan conceded the contest, retreating by the left flank off Missionary Ridge.


As twilight deepened in a purple and gunsmoke gray darkness, every unit of Anderson's, Bate's, and Stewart's divisions was either tentatively reforming among the foothills east of Missionary Ridge or else in headlong retreat . . .

Vaughan's withdrawal ended the battle for the Confederate center and right. As twilight deepened into a purple and gunsmoke gray darkness, every unit of Anderson's, Bate's, and Stewart's divisions was either tentatively reforming among the foothills east of Missionary Ridge or else in headlong retreat toward Chickamauga Station. Only Cheatham's and Cleburne's divisions of Hardee's right wing remained of what Bragg and Breckinridge had deemed to be an impregnable line. Frank Cheatham was fully cognizant of the disaster unfolding to his left. Shortly after the Federals started across the valley, Cheatham had surmised that few if any of the attackers would strike his portion of the line on Missionary Ridge. Consequently, he rode to the extreme left of his division to watch the fight unfold on Anderson's front. The Tennessean sat behind Jackson's brigade. To Jackson's right were the decimated commands of Walthall and Moore. The moment Vaughan began to flounder, Cheatham ordered Jackson and Moore to charge front to the left. Only McCants's Florida Battery stayed put to hold the line against Phelps's left regiments, which, contrary to Cheatham's calculations, were climbing the ridge in front of Jackson.

In the fast-fading light, Jackson and Moore were able to stop Van Derveer's advance northward along the crest. But Baird and Van Derveer had reserves to feed into the fight, and after thirty minutes in action, Jackson's brigade fled. With his flank exposed, Moore withdrew as well. Most of Phelps's brigade was on Missionary Ridge now, and his and Van Derveer's men surged northward.

THE ROSS HOUSE AT ROSSVILLE GAP. (LC)

AFTER THE BATTLE, THESE SUTLER'S SHOPS SPRANG UP IN CHATTANOOGA. (USAMHI)

MAJOR GENERAL BENJAMIN CHEATHAM (LC)

Cheatham scrambled to place another obstacle before their further progress. Baird was just one mile from Tunnel Hill. All Cheatham had left to stop—or at least slow—him was Walthall's fragment of a brigade, which he now brought into play. Walthall's Mississippians, few though they were, proved sufficient for the task at hand. A few volleys halted the Yankees, who came no nearer than 200 yards, and after several more minutes of frenetic shooting by both sides, they ceased fire and backed out of range. It was about 6:00 P.M.

Darkness, more than the Mississippians, had put an end to Baird's advance. And, despite their superior numbers, the Yankees were disorganized and exhausted. All seemed content to let the Confederates leave the field at their leisure. The fight for Missionary Ridge was over.

The night of November 25, 1863, was the saddest to date in the depressing history of the Army of Tennessee. Over three rough country lanes, the heartbroken troops of Bragg's dispersed divisions moved toward South Chickamauga Creek, on the far bank of which they might find at lest temporary safety. Awaiting them at Chickamauga Station was Bragg, as distraught as his men.

Bragg understood that the army's stay at Chickamauga Station must be brief, as the Federals were likely to pursue before dawn. Planning to leave shortly after midnight, Bragg chose as the immediate objective of his retreat Ringgold, Georgia, a town ten miles southeast of Chickamauga Station astride the strategically vital Western and Atlantic Railroad. Just beyond Ringgold, the railroad passed through a gap in a thirty-mile-long ridge known as Taylor's Ridge south of the tracks and White Oak Mountain north of them. From Ringgold, Bragg planned to retire fifteen miles farther to Dalton.

Where were the Yankees during the long, cold night of November 25? Why did no columns of jubilant bluecoats come bursting through the dark forest west of South Chickamauga Creek to consume the weary Rebels?

The answer rested with Grant. Having won a stunning though unexpected victory on Missionary Ridge, he was momentarily at a loss what to do next. And the last Confederates scarcely had disappeared from Missionary Ridge before Grant felt obliged to turn the better part of his attention to a problem more vexing than finishing off Bragg: what to do about General Burnside, who reportedly was besieged at Knoxville by Longstreet and low on provisions. The pressure from Washington to help Burnside and his uncertainty over affairs on his own front rendered Grant unable to fashion a fast, coordinated pursuit of Bragg during the night of November 25. Instead, he fashioned a compromise strategy. At daylight, he would chase Bragg with Sherman's troops and part of Thomas's army; Granger, meanwhile, would take his corps to succor Burnside.

The pursuit got off to a rocky start, and Bragg's infantry passed through Ringgold intact before nightfall on the twenty-sixth. It ground completely to a halt the next day, when Pat Cleburne, commanding the rear guard, successfully defended Ringgold Gap against a series of poorly orchestrated attacks by Fighting Joe Hooker. Although outnumbered three to one, Cleburne had deployed his division along White Oak Mountain and Taylor's Ridge so as to avail himself of the advantages the high ground offered. He held on until noon, when word came that the army trains were safely on their way to Dalton and that he might withdraw as he pleased. In saving the trains and artillery of the Army of Tennessee, Cleburne had lost 221 men, while inflicting over 500 casualties.


Ringgold Gap marked the end of the Chattanooga campaign, the most decisive to date in the West. Bragg had lost a campaign; a week later, he lost his command.

Ringgold Gap marked the end of the Chattanooga campaign, the most decisive to date in the West. Bragg had lost a campaign; a week later, he lost his command. President Davis at last conceded the need to relieve him. But a change in commanders could not mask the fact that the South had been dealt a devastating blow. Counting those of Cleburne's division who fell at Ringgold Gap, the Army of Tennessee reported casualties of 6,667 in the battles for Chattanooga; that is, Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge. Of these, 4,146 were counted as missing. Grant, however, insisted that he sent 6,142 men to Union prison camps. His count probably is more reliable, reflecting the hundreds of stragglers netted during the pursuit from Chickamauga Station to Ringgold Gap. Equally serious was the loss in artillery. Forty cannon and 69 limbers and caissons had been surrendered or abandoned, most on Missionary Ridge.

A SKETCH BY ALFRED WAUD OF THE BATTLE OF RINGGOLD ON NOVEMBER 27. (LC)

GENERAL GRANT (LEFT) RELAXES ON LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN AFTER THE VICTORY AT CHATTANOOGA, (LC)

By comparison, Grant had suffered 686 killed, 4,329 wounded, and just 322 captured or missing. Sheridan's division had sustained nearly a quarter of these casualties: 1,346, almost all in the assault on Missionary Ridge.

Although volunteers were virtually nonexistent in the Confederacy and able-bodied conscripts as scarce as hard currency, it was still easier to replace men than to regain territory. The South had lost for good the state of Tennessee. The late autumn offensive of John B. Hood's ragged and sick remnant of an army a year later could not change that reality. From November 26, 1863, until the end of the war, the South would be on the strategic defensive in the West.


The Chattanooga campaign also cemented the triumvirate that would win the war: Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan.

Of course, the South's loss was the North's gain. Union armies now had secure lines of communication from the Ohio River to Chattanooga. The city became a giant storehouse, where supplies stockpiled during the winter months made possible Sherman's spring 1864 offensive against the last virgin reaches of the Confederate heartland—the interior of Georgia.

The Chattanooga campaign also cemented the triumvirate that would win the war: Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. Grant's star, which had faded briefly after Vicksburg, was to burn brightly from then on, illuminating a path to the White House.


(click on image for a PDF version)

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
Back cover: The Battle of Lookout Mountain, by James Walker, courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense.
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