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Cracker Line
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Siege
October 24, 1863 General Grant, in Chattanooga, approves the plan of "Baldy" Smith to open a "Cracker Line" between Chattanooga and the railhead at Stevenson, Alabama Alabama
  Ulysses S. Grant
  Battles for Chattanooga
  William Farrar Smith
October 27, 1863 Battle of Brown's Ferry

Troops under William Hazen [US] secured a beachhead on the southern bank of the Tennessee River. "Baldy" Smith [US] built a pontoon bridge over the Tennessee and Joseph Hooker [US] took the Little Tennessee Valley
  Battles for Chattanooga
  Joseph Hooker
  William Farrar Smith

William Rosecrans fell back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, following the Battle of Chickamauga. Rations quickly became a problem and the Army of the Cumberland was on half-rations in less than a week. Initially, Rosecrans ordered a road be surveyed but failed to order rations be sent from his supply depot in Stevenson, Alabama, until September 26, 1863.

The Confederates did not control Walden's Ridge, a high precipice to the northwest of Chattanooga, or the Sequatchie Valley to the east of the ridge. Supplies from Nashville, headed south to relieve the besieged city were destroyed October 5 near Murfreesboro by Confederate cavalry under Joe Wheeler. He also destroyed the railroad, seriously hampering the ability of the Union to resupply both Rosecrans or 'Fighting Joe' Hooker who moved two corps to Stevenson by railroad. Wheeler also hit a Union wagon train on Walden's Ridge, chasing off or killing the teamsters and killing the mules.

On October 8, Army of Tennnessee commander Braxton Bragg ordered James Longstreet to post a line of sharpshooters along the Tennessee River to cut off Harley's Trace, a resupply route along the opposite bank. This effectively completed the siege. On October 9, 1863, Charles Dana wired Washington D. C. that 20 animals were dying each day. While the men were surviving on minimal rations, the mules and horses had no forage. The loss of these animals would pin the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga even if they managed to break the siege. The road across Waldon Ridge proved to be the Army of the Cumberland's only trusted supply route, but at 60 miles, muddy and with little in the way of forage, even it could not relieve Chattanooga.

An important arrival came in the form of 'Baldy' Smith, an engineer and general who had fallen from grace following the Battle of Fredericksburg. Smith was eager to use Chattanooga to rebuild his status. He immediately began studying options. When Hooker arrived in Stevenson, Rosecrans ordered him to take Lookout Valley to the west of Lookout Mountain. Delayed, first by rain then by Joe Wheeler's raid, Rosecrans plan to bridge the Tennessee to join Hooker ended.

Smith resurrected it on October 19, 1863, when he determined it would be possible to build a bridge over the Tennessee without Hooker's force controlling the valley. The plan, however, was too late to save Rosecrans' job.

Two days earlier, on October 16, 1863, the Military Division of the Mississippi was formed by combining the Department of the Cumberland, the Department of the Tennessee, and the Department of the Ohio, placing Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland under Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was already heading east from his Mississippi River headquarters in Memphis, a circuitous route by railroad that took the general to Indianapolis, Indiana, where an unexpected visitor, Edwin Stanton, boarded the train. Stanton had two orders with him, one placing William Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland under the command of Grant, the other relieving Rosecrans and placing George Thomas in command of the army in Chattanooga.

"Sam" Grant had a good opinion of Rosecrans, who served under him after Shiloh, but chose to relieve Rosecrans and place George Thomas in command. Grant then ordered Thomas to hold Chattanooga at all costs and began the arduous journey to city on mule. He arrived to little fanfare on October 23, slowed by a painful foot injury and rain. Thomas gave a report on the current situation, then turned the meeting over to Baldy Smith who explained his plan to Grant.

The next day Grant, Smith and Thomas went to Brown's Ferry to see the crossing and discuss the plan. Smith had chosen William Hazen, a fellow Vermonter whose ability and daring were well known. On October 25, 1863, Hazen was summoned to Army of the Cumberland headquarters and Smith once again presented his plan. A portion of Hazen's brigade would board makeshift boats in the Tennessee River near Chattanooga, carried quietly by the current past Confederate guards on Lookout Mountain and land at Brown's Ferry. When Hazen's brigade had secured the landing John Tuchin would cross the Tennessee in support with his brigade and the rest of Hazen's men. Engineers would complete a bridge across the Tennessee River by nightfall. Hazen was enthusiastic, as was Tuchin when the plan was explained to him.

Hooker, who had been given orders to prepare for his movement from Bridgeport into Lookout Valley sent engineers to repair a railroad bridge over Running Water Creek (where I-24 runs adjacent to the L&N Railroad between Ladd and Whiteside, Tennessee). Confederate cavalry discovered the work in progress on the 26th and reported it to Braxton Bragg. Protecting Lookout Valley for the Rebels was Evander Law's brigade. Law had taken a couple of days leave to visit John Bell Hood, resting in North Georgia after losing his leg to a bullet during the Battle of Chickamauga. Law reported to Longstreet for duty early in the morning of Tuesday, October 27, about the time William Hazen was preparing for his role in the unfolding drama. Longstreet informed Law that reports had been coming from Lookout Valley of increased Union activity in the area.

Hazen and his men boarded their boats about 3:00 am and easily began moving downstream. To tell Hazen when they reached Brown's Ferry a fire was built on the Union side of the Tennessee River. As the men reached the fire a large flatboat carrying supplies drifted past the landing and Hazen called to the boat's commander telling him to "pull in." Confederate pickets on the shore heard the commotion and began to fire, launching the Battle of Brown's Ferry.

For a few minutes a fight ensued, but Hazen's men quickly gained the upper hand and two hills. Downstream, the errant flatboat landed and the men on it came ashore. The sudden appearance of the Yankees had driven the Rebels back, but they were not gone. Waiting for Evander Law to arrive, Colonel William Oates withdrew his men and reformed them to attack. With a skirmish line in front his men hit the right flank of the Union line, held by the men from the errant flatboat. They became disorganized and withdrew.

Oates continued to roll up the federal line, aggressively attacking one of the hills Hazen had taken. Just as it seemed that Hazen would have to give up the hill, two things happened. Oates' Rebels became disorganized and the earliest morning light gave the Union infantry just enough light to see the outline of the men. Now it was the Confederates turn to withdraw. The Yankees pursued the Rebels and shot Colonel Oates, ending all Rebel resistance. When Evander Law reached Oates, being cared for in a home, they reviewed the situation and Law assumed a defensive position on the road across Lookout Mountain.

Braxton Bragg was not happy as he approached Longstreet's headquarters on Lookout Mountain. He was coming to see the federals marching from Stevenson through Lookout Valley and heading for Brown's Ferry. After a few unpleasant words with Longstreet over his lack of action, Old Pete took Bragg to his favorite observation post, Sunset Rock. Bragg then understood why Longstreet had not attacked. At the far end of the valley, coming across the repaired bridge over Running Water Creek came the 11th Corps under Oliver O. Howard while a separate, massive column under Hooker prepared to take Wauhatchie, almost directly beneath the Confederate officers. Howard's column reached Brown's Ferry just after 4:00pm.

A few hours before Howard's arrival the first men walked across Baldy Smith's pontoon bridge over the Tennessee River. Now the engineers were adding the finishing touches and before nightfall supplies began moving into Chattanooga. At first, the rations were extras brought by Hooker's men through Lookout Valley. These rations were comprised mostly of hardtack and dried beef, although only the men nearest Brown's Ferry got the dried beef. As a result, men who only received hardtack began calling it the "Cracker Line" (cracker was a nickname for hardtack}. Once Lookout Valley was cleared, the first steamship left Bridgeport and traveled north to Kelley's Ferry (this is sometimes spelled Kelly's Ferry). At Kelley's, the supplies were off-loaded and moved to Brown's Ferry by land. From here two steamships made trips between the Chattanooga docks and Brown's Ferry to haul rations.

On Lookout Mountain the hungry Confederates eyed John Geary's division and their ample supplies as targets. Bragg verbally told Longstreet to attack the division, a job he assigned to Micah Jenkins, Evander Law and Lafayette McLaws. The result was the Battle of Wauhatchie, one of the most confused battles of The Civil War.

Links appearing on this page:

'Baldy' Smith
'Fighting Joe' Hooker
Army of Tennnessee
Army of the Cumberland
Battle of Chickamauga
Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Wauhatchie
Braxton Bragg
Edwin Stanton
Evander Law
George Thomas
James Longstreet
John Bell Hood
Lafayette McLaws
October 16
October 5
October 8
October, 1863
September 26
September, 1863
The Civil War
Ulysses S. Grant
Washington D. C.
William Rosecrans

Civil War Encyclopedia >> Siege

Cracker Line was last changed on - November 16, 2007
Cracker Line was added on - October 24, 2007

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