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.
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 configuration of the river 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 east side of the ferry, 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 was unable to 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
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 mouth of the South Chickamauga Creek, 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 movement of Union supplies 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
The Union Army of the Cumberland had made its positions very strong during the time it was besieged by Bragg’s army. 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 our 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.