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Battles for Chattanooga
Battles for Chattanooga
The Army of the Cumberland's loss at Chickamauga was the worst defeat suffered by the U. S. Army in American history. Retreating to the southeastern Tennessee city of Chattanooga, General William S. Rosecrans [US] began fortifying his weak position with a ring of forts and entrenchments. If his men were unable to hold the city, they had their backs to a river and would not be able to retreat. The loss of life could be catastrophic.
Braxton Bragg [CS], however, chose to lay siege to the beleaguered city rather than attack it outright, much to the chagrin of his subordinates, including James Longstreet, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Daniel Harvey Hill and Leonidas Polk. From Lookout Mountain Bragg controlled Missionary Ridge to the right, then extended his line north along Chickamauga Creek to the Tennessee River. On the left he controlled the south bank of the Tennessee River to the gorge formed by Signal Mountain to the north and Raccoon Mountain to the south. Rosecrans held the city, Moccasin Point and Walden Ridge, the high land behind Signal Mountain.
Abraham Lincoln ordered Ulysess S. Grant to Chattanooga so that he could assume command not only of the Army of the Cumberland, but the Army of the Mississippi under William Tecumseh Sherman and the 20th Corps, detached from the Army of the Potomac along with General Joe Hooker. Grant's first act in command was to relieve General Rosecrans of duty. He wired George Thomas to hold the city at all costs.
After arriving at the railhead in Stevenson, Alabama, Grant rode to Chattanooga by horse, traveling the supply route that Rosecrans had been using. His first order of business when he arrived was the approval of W. F. "Baldy" Smith's plan to open up a new supply route to the city. General William Hazen secured a beachhead with an amphibious landing at the site of a defunct ferry (Brown's Ferry) on the Tennessee River. Smith then bridged river at this spot from Moccasin Point. From Stevenson, Hooker moved north in two columns into the Little Tennessee Valley and Grant opened up the "Cracker Line." At first only rations moved into Chattanooga, but when the men could be fed, Grant began moving in guns and ammunition.
Beneath the brow of Lookout Mountain James Longstreet watched as long blue lines filled the Little Tennessee Valley. He felt that the federal troops beneath the mountain were easy targets and his men were hungry. In a rare nighttime attack, Longstreet cut communications between John Geary in Wauhatchie and the main body of Union troops to the north near Brown's Ferry. As Geary tried to reestablish his communication General O. O. Howard moved south towards the sound of fighting. Because of Howard's rapid response, Longstreet did not have the time he needed and he suspended the attack when Howard's skirmishers reached his northern line.
The battle for Chattanooga is considered a strategic masterpiece for Grant. First, he ordered George Thomas to take Orchard Knob on November 23. It would be easier to distract the Confederates on Missionary Ridge from this hill about a mile east of Bragg's headquarters.
The next day Grant ordered "Fighting Joe" Hooker to test the Rebel defenses on Lookout Mountain. Hooker headed south along Lookout Creek west of the mountain, crossing it near the site of the battle of Wauhatchie and forming a line up the side of the mountain. Sweeping the side of the mountain Hooker's men made easy work of Carter Stevenson's defenses, which had been aligned to deal with an enemy attacking from the creek.
In the trenches around Chattanooga, Grant's men could see the mountain. A local weather phenomenon where a fog cloud rises and obscures the top of the mountain gave this battle the most lyrical name of any in the Civil War, "The Battle Above the Clouds." As Hooker's men reached Craven's House (called the "white house" in dispatches), the clouds parted and the fighting was visible from the ground. A cheer went up as Hooker's men swept across the open plateau that held the house.
About that time, Hooker decided to regroup and consolidate his advances. Confederate forces, outnumbered 10 to 1 advanced briefly but were quickly thrown back. The battle continued to nightfall, when Stevenson was ordered to withdraw to the Rebel left. While Bragg had wanted to hold Lookout Mountain, he always intended to defend Missionary Ridge. On November 25, 1863 Braxton Bragg got his chance.
Ulysses S. Grant had a Bragg in a pretty good position, at least on a map. Both Rebel flanks were relatively exposed, and while Bragg was defending a steep mountainside to his front he also had a steep mountainside to his rear. Grant ordered Sherman to cross the Tennessee River and attack the right flank of the Confederate line while Hooker came off Lookout Mountain, crossed a river valley and hit the Confederate left at the Rossville end of the Ridge.
Fighting began at 10:00am on right flank of the Confederate army where Missionary Ridge ends in a series of small hills. "Uncle Billy's" men celebrated when they took Billy Goat Hill, only to find out when they reached the top that there was another hill behind it. Patrick Cleburne's men had stubbornly held on to the first hill and no Union soldier was looking forward to an attack on Missionary Ridge proper.
Hooker's assault on the Rebel right never materialized. Carter Stevenson had destroyed a key bridge as he withdrew, delaying the advance of the XX Corps.
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Battles for Chattanooga was last changed on - October 29, 2007
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