Chickamauga & Chattanooga – Death Knell of the Confederacy

Re-enactors fire cannons during the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. Photo by Dave Alexander.

Re-enactors fire cannons during the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, by Dave Alexander, 2012.

“This…is the death-knell of the Confederacy.”
— A Confederate soldier after the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.

In the fall of 1863, in some of the hardest fighting of the Civil WarUnion and Confederate forces fought for control of ChattanoogaTennessee, a key rail center known as the “Gateway to the Deep South.” The Confederates were victorious at nearby ChickamaugaGeorgia, in September. However, renewed fighting in Chattanooga in November provided Union troops victory and control of the city. After the fighting, one Confederate soldier ominously wrote, “This…is the death-knell of the Confederacy.”

Battle of Chickamauga

Through a series of skillful marches, Union Major General William Rosecrans forced Southerners under General Braxton Bragg to withdraw from Middle Tennessee and Chattanooga. Bragg dug in, guarding the Tennessee River crossings northeast of the city. However, early in September, Federals crossed the Tennessee River well below, again forcing Bragg to withdraw southward.

Eluding his Federal pursuers, General Bragg concentrated his forces at LaFayette, Georgia, some 26 miles south of Chattanooga. Here, reinforcements swelled his ranks to more than 66,000 men. Twice, General Braxton Bragg unsuccessfully tried to destroy segments of General Rosecrans’ army. Then, on September 18, 1863, hoping to wedge his troops between the Federals and posted his army on the west bank of Chickamauga Creek.

Preliminary Actions

On the morning of September 18, 1863, three advanced brigades of Confederate General James Longstreet’s Corps from Virginia arrived at Ringgold, Georgia. One brigade immediately joined Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson’s division as it prepared to cross Chickamauga Creek at Reed’s Bridge. Under Colonel Robert H. G. Minty and mounted infantry under Colonel John T. Wilder’s command, guarding the bridges, Union cavalry offered stout resistance. It delayed the crossing of the southern troops for several hours. During the skirmishing, Minty’s men dismantled Alexander’s Bridge and forced Walker to proceed to Lambert’s Ford, a half-mile downstream. The Confederates used other fords and crossings throughout the late afternoon and night as all of the forces, except three divisions, crossed to the west side of Chickamauga Creek.

The Union forces were not idle, and during the night, General Rosecrans moved Thomas’ corps northeastward above and back of Crittenden so that General Bragg would not outflank the Federal line. Negley’s Division remained near Crawfish Springs (now Chickamauga), Major General Joseph J. Reynolds’ Division near Widow Glenn’s, and Brigadier Generals Absalom Baird’s and John M. Brannan’s Divisions covered the roads leading to Reed’s and Alexander’s Bridges. General McCook’s Corps moved into position in McLemore’s Cove.

The situation at dawn on the 19th found the two armies facing each other over a stretch of several miles along Chickamauga Creek banks. In a short time, Rosecrans had been able to maneuver the Army of the Cumberland into position so that it interposed between General Bragg and Chattanooga. His Reserve Corps under General Granger was at McAfee’s Church, near Rossville, Georgia. Thomas’ Fourteenth Army Corps composed the Union’s left a few miles south of Granger and formed a southwesterly line to Crawfish Spring where it joined McCook, forming the right in McLemore’s Cove. Crittenden’s 21st Army Corps remained concentrated at Lee and Gordon’s Mills, somewhat in front of the other two corps, to protect the Union.

First Day Battle 

Early in the morning of September 19, Major General George H. Thomas ordered Brigadier General John M. Brannan to reconnoiter the Confederate forces that had crossed Chickamauga Creek. In this manner, Colonel John T. Croxton’s brigade of infantry accidentally ran into some of Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest’s cavalry, which was dismounted and serving as infantry, at Jay’s Mill near Reed’s Bridge. And so the battle began.

Battle of Chickamauga

Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia by Kurz & Allison, 1890.

Union Colonel Croxton drove General Nathan B. Forrest and his men back, but reinforcements hurried in and forced Croxton to give ground. Suddenly, the commanding generals realized that a major conflict was upon them, and they hurriedly sent troops into the fight as first one side, and then the other gained the upper hand. Union General Rosecrans, by rapid and forced marches, brought up his troops from Crawfish Springs. Confederate General Bragg ordered his left-wing divisions to cross to the west side of Chickamauga Creek. By mid-afternoon, major fighting had spread along a jagged line some three miles in length. Except for Union Major General Gordon Granger’s reserve force, all the Union divisions became involved. The Confederate troops were also largely engaged, except Generals T.C. Hindman and J.C. Breckinridge, who had crossed over during the late afternoon and night.

When the battle ended for the day, little progress could be shown by General Bragg’s troops had reached the LaFayette-Chattanooga Road but were not able to hold the position. Neither side could claim a victory. Bragg had failed to crush the Union left, and General Rosecrans remained in possession of Chattanooga roads. The losses on both sides were heavy.

As night fell and darkness settled over the battlefield, the fighting stopped, but there was little rest for the weary soldiers. Rosecrans brought the Army of the Cumberland into a more compact defensive line; Thomas’ Corps, heavily reinforced, formed the left in a bulge east of the LaFayette Road at Kelly’s Field.

Battle of Chickamauga, Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, 1863

Battle of Chickamauga, Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper, 1863

Throughout the night, the Confederates heard the ring of axes as the Union troops cut trees and logs to form breastworks. General Alexander McCook’s Corps in the center faced Lafayette Road; Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s Corps on the right was a little withdrawn west of the road.

During the night, Confederate General James Longstreet arrived with two more brigades ready for action. General Bragg then decided to form the Army of Tennessee into two wings for offensive action the next day. He placed Lieutenant General Leonidas in command of the right-wing and General Longstreet, the left. The Confederate Army, facing west between Chickamauga Creek and the LaFayette Road, formed a line more or less parallel with the road.

Second Day Battle

On September 20th, Confederate General Braxton Bragg again tried to drive between the Union force and Chattanooga but failed to dislodge Major General William Rosecrans‘ line. Suddenly, a gap opened in the Federal ranks, and Confederates smashed through, routing Rosecrans and half his army. General George H. Thomas took command of the remaining Federals and formed a new battle line on Snodgrass Hill. Here, his men held their ground against repeated assaults. After dark, Thomas’ forces withdrew from the field to the defenses of Chattanooga. The Confederates pursued and besieged the city. The Southerners prevented Federal supplies from entering the city by placing artillery on the heights overlooking the river and blocking the roads and rail lines.

Confederate General Braxton Bragg

Confederate General Braxton Bragg

Aware of General Rosecrans’ plight, Union authorities in Washington ordered reinforcements to his relief. General Joseph Hooker came from Virginia late in October, and General William T. Sherman brought reinforcements from Mississippi in mid-November. Thomas replaced Rosecrans as head of Army of the Cumberland, and General Ulysses S. Grant assumed overall command.

Within days of Grant’s arrival in October, the situation began to change dramatically. Federal troops opened a supply route, nicknamed the “Cracker Line,” from Bridgeport, Alabama. On November 23, Thomas’ men attacked and routed the Confederates from Orchard KnobTennessee. On the 24th, aided by a heavy fog that enshrouded the slopes of Lookout Mountain, Hooker’s soldiers pushed the Confederates out of their defenses. On November 25, most of General Bragg’s army now concentrated on Missionary Ridge. General Ulysses S. Grant launched General Sherman’s troops against the Confederate right flank and sent Hooker’s men from Lookout Mountain to attack the Confederate left.

Thomas’ soldiers were sent to relieve Sherman’s pressure by assaulting the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. This was swiftly accomplished, but then, without orders, Thomas’ men scaled the heights in one of the war’s great charges. The Confederate line collapsed, and Bragg’s troops fled to the rear, retreating into Georgia. The siege and battle for Chattanooga were over, and Union armies controlled the city and nearly all of Tennessee. The next spring, General Sherman used Chattanooga for his supply base as he started his march to Atlanta and the sea.

Today, the Chickamauga Battlefield features a seven-mile self-guiding auto tour, monuments, historical tablets, hiking trails, and horse trails. The Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center contains exhibits and the Fuller Gun Collection, which contains over 300 examples of military long arms.

The Siege of Chattanooga

Battle of Chattanooga, L. Prang and Co, 1880

Battle of Chattanooga, L. Prang and Co, 1880

Thomas remained in position at Rossville, Georgia, throughout September 21st, but it was evident that the Confederates could turn his right flank and cut him off from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He suggested to Rosecrans that the Union Army concentrate at Chattanooga. In anticipation of receiving an order to withdraw to the town, Thomas instructed his officers to prepare their commands for the movement. Rosecrans adopted the suggestion, and that evening Thomas withdrew the Union forces to Chattanooga. All wagons, ambulances, and surplus artillery had already departed for Chattanooga during the day. By the morning of September 22, all Union troops were in position in the town.

The situation in which the men in blue found themselves in Chattanooga was not pleasant. The Tennessee River walled them in on the north, although a pontoon bridge and two ferries offered escape possibilities. Lookout Mountain blocked the way on the west, and Missionary Ridge to the east and south, now held by the Confederates, completed the circle.

Confederate troops began to take up siege positions around Chattanooga. In these positions, the Confederates dominated the Union lines. Bragg’s men controlled all the railroads leading into the town; Confederate batteries and sharpshooters commanded the Tennessee River, and river traffic ceased; they controlled the roads on the south side of the river and kept under fire the one road north of the river leading to Bridgeport, the nearest Union supply base. Only the road over Walden’s Ridge and down through the Sequatchie Valley to Bridgeport was open to General Rosecrans.

Reinforcements for the Besieged Army

As early as September 13, General in Chief Halleck ordered reinforcements sent to Rosecrans. His dispatches on September 13, 14, and 15 to Major Generals Hurlbut at Memphis and Grant and Sherman at VicksburgMississippi, directed the troop movements. However, these dispatches were delayed for several days en route from Cairo to Memphis, and, in the meantime, the Battle of Chickamauga was fought. Grant received the orders on the 22nd and immediately instructed four divisions under Sherman to march to Chattanooga.

One division of the Seventeenth Corps, already in transit from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Helena, Arkansas, was ordered to proceed on to Memphis. General Sherman quickly brought three divisions of his Fifteenth Army Corps from the Big Black River’s vicinity into Vicksburg, where they embarked as fast as water transportation could be provided. By October 3, all of the movement of 17,000 men was underway.

The route of travel was by boat to Memphis, then by railroad and overland marches to Chattanooga. From Memphis, the troops followed closely the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, which Sherman was ordered to repair as he advanced. By November 15, the troops were at Bridgeport, Alabama, having traveled a distance of 675 miles.

When the War Department in Washington received word that the Army of the Cumberland was besieged in Chattanooga, it considered the situation so critical that President Abraham Lincoln was called out of bed late at night to attend a council meeting. This meeting occurred on the night of September 23 and was described:

“Rosecrans dispatch, Mr. Stanton sent one of the President’s secretaries who was standing by to the Soldier’s Home, where the President was sleeping. A little startled by the unwonted summons — for this was “the first time” he said, Stanton had ever sent for him, — the President mounted his horse and rode in through the moonlight to the War Department to preside over an improvised council to consider the subject of reinforcing Rosecrans.

There were present General Halleck, Stanton, Seward and Chase of the Cabinet; P. H. Watson and James A. Hardie of the War Department; and General D. C. McCallum, Superintendent of Military Transportation. After a brief debate, it was resolved to detach the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps from the Army of the Potomac, General Hooker to be placed in command of both . . .”

Army of the Potomac Soldiers

Army of the Potomac Soldiers

The Eleventh and Twelfth Army Corps’ movement from the Army of the Potomac to Tennessee eclipsed all other such troop movements by rail up to that time. It represented a high degree of cooperation between the railroads and the government and was a singular triumph of skill and planning. It also shows the great importance the War Department attached to the Chattanooga Campaign.

The troops began to entrain at Manassas Junction and Bealton Station, Virginia, on September 25, and 5 days later, on September 30, the first trains arrived at Bridgeport, Alabama. The route traveled was by way of Washington, D. C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Bellaire and Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Bridgeport, Alabama. Several major railroad lines, including the Baltimore and Ohio, Central Ohio, Louisville and Nashville, and Nashville and Chattanooga were involved.

However, not all of the troops made such good time as the first trains, and for the majority of the infantry, the trip consumed about nine days. The movement of the artillery, horses, mules, baggage, and impediments was somewhat slower, but by the middle of October, all were in the vicinity of Bridgeport, ready to help break the siege. These two corps under Major General Joseph Hooker, comprising 20,000 troops and more than 3,000 horses and mules, traveled 1,157 miles. Differences in the railroad gauges hampered the movement, but most of the changes in gauge occurred at river crossings that had no bridges, and the troops had to detrain at these points anyway.

Confederate cavalry raids, bent on destroying the railroad bridges and otherwise interfering with the reinforcing effort, imposed a more serious difficulty, but, except for delaying the latter part of the movement a few days, the raids were ineffective.

At the beginning of the siege, the Union Army had large supply trains in good condition, and transporting supplies seemed feasible. But, early in October, rain began to fall and the roads became almost impassable. To make the situation more critical, General Braxton Bragg sent Wheeler to harass and destroy the Union supply trains as they moved over Walden’s Ridge on their trips to and from Bridgeport. Wheeler destroyed hundreds of wagons and animals, and it was not long before the Union soldier received less and less food. Wagon horses and mules, and artillery horses were on a starvation diet, and many died each day.

Command of the two hostile armies had undergone a considerable change during the siege period. General Ulysses S. Grant received orders to meet “an officer of the War Department” at Louisville, Kentucky. He proceeded by rail to Indianapolis, Indiana, and just as his train left the depot there, en route to Louisville, Kentucky, it was stopped. A message informed Grant that Secretary of War Stanton was coming into the station and wished to see him. This was the “officer” from the War Department who gave Grant command of the newly organized Military Division of the Mississippi. Thomas replaced Rosecrans. McCook and Crittenden had previously been relieved of their commands and their corps consolidated into the Fourth Corps under Granger’s command. Stanton accompanied Grant to Louisville, and there, the two spent a day reviewing the situation.

In Bragg’s camp, General Polk was relieved of his command, and Lieutenant General William J. Hardee rejoined the army. Bragg’s army was reorganized into three corps commanded by Generals Longstreet, Hardee, and Breckinridge.

Moccasin Bend from Lookout Mountain, TN,Detroit Photographic Co,1902

Moccasin Bend from Lookout Mountain, TN, Detroit Photographic Co,1902

General Grant reached Chattanooga on October 23rd, and he found a plan already drawn up to open a new supply line for the besieged army. This plan of necessity was conditioned upon the terrain and the river’s configuration between Bridgeport, the railhead and base of supplies for the Union Army, and Chattanooga. (After the Tennessee River passes the city, it flows southward for some two miles until it strikes Lookout Mountain where, after a short westerly course, it curves northward. This elongated loop of the Tennessee River is called Moccasin Bend.)

The plan called for 1,500 men on pontoons to float down the river from Chattanooga during the night of October 26-27 while another force marched across Moccasin Point to support the landings of the river-borne troops. General Grant ordered the plan executed. The pontoon borne troops quickly disembarked upon striking the west bank at Brown’s Ferry, drove off the Confederate pickets, and threw up breastworks. The troops marching across the neck of land came up to the ferry’s east side, joined this group, and constructed a pontoon bridge.

Hooker’s advance from Bridgeport coincided with this action. He marched by the road along Raccoon Mountain into Lookout Valley. There he met the advance post of a Confederate brigade and drove it back. Major General O. O. Howard’s Eleventh Corps moved to within two miles of Brown’s Ferry, while Brigadier General John W. Geary of the Twelfth Corps remained at Wauhatchie to guard the road to Kelley’s Ferry.

The Confederates made a night attack against Geary, which the latter repulsed, but both sides lost heavily. After this action, the short line of communication with Bridgeport by way of Brown’s and Kelley’s Ferries was held by Hooker without further trouble.

With the successful seizure of Brown’s Ferry and construction of a pontoon bridge across the Tennessee River there and Hooker’s equally successful advance from Bridgeport and seizure of the south side of the river at Raccoon Mountain and in Lookout Valley, the way was finally clear for the Union Army to reopen a short line of supply and communication between Chattanooga and Bridgeport, the rail end of its supply line. This “Cracker Line” ran by boat up the Tennessee River from Bridgeport to Kelley’s Ferry. Above Kelley’s Ferry, the swift current made the stream un-navigable at certain points to boats then available. Accordingly, at Kelley’s Ferry, the “Cracker Line” left the river and crossed Raccoon Mountain by road to Brown’s Ferry. There, it crossed the river on the pontoon bridge, then across Moccasin Point, and finally across the river once more into Chattanooga.

Early in November, Bragg ordered Longstreet to march against Burnside in East Tennessee with Major General Lafayette McLaw’s and Major General John B. Hood’s Divisions of infantry, Colonel E. Porter Alexander’s and Major A. Leyden’s battalions of artillery, and five brigades of cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler — about 15,000 men in all. This movement caused great anxiety in Washington, and the authorities urged General Grant to act promptly to assist Burnside. Grant felt that the quickest way to aid him was to attack Bragg and force the latter to recall Longstreet. On November 7, Thomas received Grant’s right. Thomas replied that he could not move a single piece of artillery because of the poor condition of the horses and mules. They were not strong enough to pull artillery pieces. In these circumstances, Grant could only answer Washington dispatches, urge Sherman forward, and encourage Burnside to hold on.

Lifting the Siege – The Battle of Chattanooga

General William T. Sherman, John Chester, 1800s

General William T. Sherman, John Chester, 1800s

With the Confederate Army in front of Chattanooga divided into two corps, Hardee on the right and Breckinridge on the left on Missionary Ridge, and General Stevenson with a small force occupying, Bragg waited.

General Grant’s plan of battle was for General Sherman with his four divisions to cross the Tennessee River at Brown’s Ferry and march behind Stringer’s Ridge, concealed from the eyes of the Confederates, and take a position near the North Chickamauga Creek. He was to re-cross the river by pontoon bridge at the South Chickamauga Creek’s mouth, strike the north end of Missionary Ridge, and capture it as far as the railroad tunnel. Thomas was to move his Army of the Cumberland to the left and connect with Sherman. This united force was to sweep the Confederates southward off Missionary Ridge and away from their base of supplies at Chickamauga Station. Howard’s Corps was to act as a general reserve for this force. Hooker, with the Twelfth Corps and Brigadier General Charles Cruft’s Division, was to hold Lookout Valley. Colonel Eli Long’s Cavalry was to cover Sherman’s left and, when no longer needed for this task was to strike Bragg’s communications. This original plan, however, was changed several times to fit the situation.

The rains that hampered Union supplies’ movement also delayed General Sherman’s movement across the Tennessee River. High water broke the bridge at Brown’s Ferry, and Osterhaus’ Division could not cross the river. Subsequently, it received orders to join Hooker in Lookout Valley.

On November 22nd, General Ulysses S. Grant received word that Confederate General Bragg was withdrawing his army; actually, the movement reported was Buckner leaving to reinforce Longstreet. To “test the truth” of the report, Grant changed his plans and ordered Thomas to make a demonstration to his front on the 23rd. This began the battles of Chattanooga.

Battle of Orchard Knob

Battle of Orchard Knob, Nov. 24, 1863, Kurz and Allison, 1888

Battle of Orchard Knob, Nov. 24, 1863, Kurz and Allison, 1888

The Union Army of the Cumberland had made its positions very strong when Bragg’s army besieged it. One of its strong points was Fort Wood on an elevated Point east of the town. Thomas, according to instructions, sent Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s and Brigadier General T.J. Wood’s divisions to level ground at Fort Wood and there formed them in line — Wood on the left, Sheridan on the right, with Brigadier General Absalom Baird supporting Sheridan. Brigadier-General R. W. Johnson’s troops held the trenches, and Major General O.O. Howard’s Corps, which had crossed from the north bank of the river, acted as the reserve.

At 2:00 p.m. on November 23rd, the lines of blue moved forward, driving the Confederate outposts and their supports back to the base of Orchard Knob, a low hill a little more than a mile in front of the ridge. The Union forces occupied the captured entrenchments and erected a battery on Orchard Knob. Except for occasional artillery firing, the fighting ended for the day.

General Sherman began to carry out his role in the drama. He selected Brigadier-General Giles A. Smith’s brigade to man the pontoon boats, concealed in North Chickamauga Creek, to cross the Tennessee River and secure a bridgehead near the mouth of the South Chickamauga Creek. During the hours of darkness, the brigade landed at its designated place. A few soldiers stopped at the mouth of the creek, surprising and capturing the pickets there. The remaining troops landed and prepared to build bridges across the Tennessee River and South Chickamauga Creek. By early afternoon they had finished the bridge across the river, and Sherman’s forces were across and ready to attack. Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis’ Division (Fourteenth Corps), which had guarded the pontoons, also crossed and became part of Sherman’s force.

General Sherman and his troops attacked and seized the north end of Missionary Ridge at 4 p. m. against only Confederate outpost opposition. To his surprise, Sherman found a deep and wide ravine separating the north end of the ridge from Tunnel Hill immediately southward, his real objective. Cleburne’s Division of Confederate troops had hurried to Tunnel Hill only an hour or two before Sherman seized the north end of Missionary Ridge, and they were busily engaged entrenching there when Sherman arrived across the ravine from them. Sherman did not attack Tunnel Hill that afternoon but entrenched where he was.

Battle of Lookout Mountain

Battle of Lookout Mountain, Kurz and Allison,1889

Battle of Lookout Mountain, Kurz and Allison,1889

While operations were in progress, east of Chattanooga, Hooker moved into action west of the town. The failure of Osterhaus’ Division to join General Sherman resulted in another change of orders. A new plan for Hooker to take Lookout Mountain and descend into Chattanooga Valley replaced the original one of having him merely hold Lookout Valley and the route to Bridgeport. Hooker had three divisions in his force commanded by Brigadier Generals Peter J. Osterhaus, John W. Geary, and Charles Cruft, each from a different army corps. Geary was on the right at Wauhatchie, Cruft in the center, and Osterhaus near Brown’s Ferry. It was a unique team. One who was present wrote, “We were all strangers, no one division ever having seen either of the others.”

The terrain that confronted Hooker’s command was rugged, steep, heavily timbered, and topped by a rocky cliff. At the cliff base and halfway up the mountain, at the northern end, was a bench of nearly level land. On it stood the Cravens Farm. At 8:00 a.m. on November 24th,  Hooker sent Geary’s Division, supported by a brigade from Cruft’s Division, to effect a crossing of Lookout Creek. The troops accomplished this with little opposition, and Geary climbed the mountain until his column’s head reached the cliff. The division then moved to the left and proceeded northward toward the point of the mountain.

While Geary climbed the mountain, Cruft, with his force, moved farther down the valley toward the Tennessee River and seized a bridge over the creek. Osterhaus’s Division then crossed the stream at that point in the face of sharp skirmishing with Confederate defenders before the latter retreated up the mountain. The three Union divisions soon joined on a common line and, supported by Union batteries on Moccasin Point, steadily drove Walthall’s Confederate brigade around the point of Lookout Mountain to the Cravens farmhouse. By noon, Hooker’s forces were in possession of the farm, but the Confederates made a stand beyond the Cravens house within prepared defense works and were joined by two brigades from the top of the mountain. The fog which covered the mountainside most of the morning became so heavy that by 2 p. m. it was almost impossible to see. This factor, plus a shortage of ammunition, caused Hooker to halt and consolidate his position. Later in the afternoon, Carlin’s brigade arrived with a re-supply of ammunition.

During the night, General Stevenson withdrew the Confederate forces from Lookout Mountain and marched them to Missionary Ridge, where they joined their comrades holding that sector of the line. “The Battle Above the Clouds” was fought on the bench of land surrounding the Cravens house. There was no fighting on top of the mountain. The romantic name given in later years to this action on the Union right was the result of the fog and mist which shrouded the mountain that day from observers below. It was not until the next morning that the 8th Kentucky Volunteers planted the Stars and Stripes on top of the bluff.

Battle of Missionary Ridge

Battle of Missionary Ridge, Kurz and Allison,1886

Battle of Missionary Ridge, Kurz, and Allison,1886

The decisive blow of the battle was at hand. Grant’s orders for the morning of November 25 were as follows: Sherman was directed to attack at daylight. Hooker was ordered to move at the same hour and endeavor to intercept the enemy’s retreat if he remained; if he had gone, he moved directly to Rossville and operated against the left and rear of the force on Missionary Ridge. Thomas was not to move until Hooker had reached Missionary Ridge.”

General Sherman began his attack, as directed, just after sunrise. His troops attacked Cleburne’s Division frontally, but without success. All night the Confederates had strengthened their position on Tunnel Hill, which now formed the Confederate right. These fieldworks gave good protection to Cleburne’s men from enemy fire. The stubbornly fighting Confederates held their positions against repeated attacks by superior numbers. This fight continued until 3:00 p.m. and is a notable example of the value to a greatly outnumbered defending force of field works in a good position. Some Union troops did make a lodgment on the slopes of Tunnel Hill in the afternoon, but a Confederate charge drove them off. Cleburne’s soldiers held the hill.

In the meantime, Hooker was in trouble — not with the enemy, but with Chattanooga Creek. He started for Rossville bright and early to get into position to strike Bragg’s left. Stevenson’s men who had evacuated Lookout Mountain during the night had burned the bridge across Chattanooga Creek and had done all they could to obstruct the roads that Hooker needed to march to Rossville. Hooker lost 3 hours building a bridge across the creek, and it was late afternoon before his men took their places on Missionary Ridge.

From his post on Orchard Knob, General Grant realized that Sherman’s attacks had failed to gain their objective and that Hooker had been delayed in reaching his assigned position. To relieve some of the pressure on General Sherman, Grant ordered Thomas to move out against the Confederate center on Missionary Ridge.

The ridge that lay before the Union troops was rough and steep. It rose from 200 to 400 feet higher than the level ground at its base. Its steep slopes were broken by ravines, strewn with boulders, and dotted with stumps, the latter reminders of recently felled timber. The first line of Confederate breastworks was at the foot of the ridge. Some unfinished works had been built half-way up the slope. Finally, the third line of works was built on the natural, instead of the hill’s military, crest. Thus, Confederate fire from the crest could not cover some of the ravine approaches.

Four Union divisions headed by Generals Baird, Wood, Philip Sheridan, and R. W. Johnson started toward the ridge. The hard-charging Union soldiers soon overwhelmed the gray defenders in the rifle pits at the ridge’s base. Scarcely halting, and generally without orders to continue, the men in blue charged up the ridge. They followed the retreating Confederates so closely from the rifle pits that the Confederates on the crest in many places hesitated to fire for fear of hitting their own men. It was not long before units of the Army of the Cumberland pierced the Confederate line in several places and sent Bragg’s veterans reeling in retreat down the east slope of the ridge toward Chickamauga Creek. Sheridan pushed forward in pursuit of the retreating army, capturing men, artillery, and equipment. Even though the Confederate center had disintegrated, Hardee held his position on the Confederate right until darkness and then began his withdrawal with Cleburne’s Division covering the retreat. Bragg’s army crossed Chickamauga Creek during the night, carrying out a surprisingly successful retreat.

During the evening of the 25th, General Grant issued orders to Generals Thomas and Sherman to pursue Confederate General Braxton Bragg. The next morning, General Sherman advanced by way of Chickamauga Station, and Thomas’ troops marched on the Rossville Road toward Graysville and Ringgold. In the vicinity of Ringgold, Cleburne’s Confederates held a strong position on Taylor’s Ridge covering General Bragg’s retreat. Cleburne’s men repulsed a Union attack, inflicting heavy casualties until Bragg’s army had successfully withdrawn southward, and then they followed. Union troops then occupied Taylor’s Ridge. There the pursuit stopped. This decisive Union victory raised the siege of Chattanooga.

National Military Park

Atop Lookout Mountain.

Today, Chickamauga and Chattanooga’s battle sites are part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, dedicated in September 1895.

In recommending the park’s creation, congressional committees pointed out that probably no other field in the world presented more formidable natural obstacles to large scale military operations than the slopes of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Since the purpose would be to maintain the park in its historic condition, they also noted that there had been scarcely any changes in the roads, fields, forests, and houses at Chickamauga since the battle, except in the growth of underbrush and timber. Taken together, these battlefields offered unparalleled opportunities for the historical and professional military study of the operations of two great armies as they both encountered the multiple military obstacles created by forests, steep mountains, open fields, and streams. From strategically placed observation towers placed on the Chickamauga Battlefield, Missionary Ridge, and Lookout Mountain, observers and students could comprehend the grand campaign that extended over a 150-mile front and follow many tactical details of the actual battle. No battlefield park of this quality and magnitude could be found in any other location in the world.

The park features some 1,400 monuments and historical markers on the battlefields and numerous hiking trails. The Chickamauga Battlefield also features a seven-mile self-guiding auto tour and horse trails. The Visitor Center at Chickamauga contains exhibits and the Fuller Gun Collection, which contains over 300 military long arms examples. The Lookout Mountain Battlefield also features hiking trails, scenic vistas, the historic Cravens House, and a visitor center. Efforts continue today to protect and preserve the park’s many cultural and natural features while providing an inspiring experience for visitors.

More Information:

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
P.O. Box 2128
Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia 30742
Chickamauga Visitor Center 706-866-9241
Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center 423-821-7786

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated March  2021.

Coloring History by Legends of America

Coloring History by Legends of America. Available at Legends’ General Store.

Also See:

Chickamauga By Colonel Robert L. Kimberly

The Civil War

Civil War Battles of Tennessee

Confederate States of America

The Union in the Civil War

Source: National Park Service