Operations on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad (November 1863)
Occurring in Shelby County, Tennessee, Four minor battles were fought at Collierville during a three-month period. The railroad, which had been taken by the Union in April 1862, severed the Confederacy’s vital east-west rail artery. When the Confederate Cavalry learned that only two Union regiments defended Collierville, they attacked. The two largest battles occurred on October 11, 1863, and November 3, 1863.
Collierville (October 11, 1863) – This battle occurred when Confederate forces of Brigadier General James R. Chalmers advanced from its base in Oxford, Mississippi, to attack the Union garrison at Collierville. Union forces were commanded by Union Colonel D. C. Anthony of the 66th Indiana Infantry, which had established defenses at the railroad depot and a stockade with 8-foot-high walls and a line of rifle-pits. General Chalmers planned to cut the telegraph lines, burn the railroad trestles, and surround the fort. About 12 noon, a train constraining Major General William T. Sherman’s and his troops arrived from Memphis, which brought the total number of men fighting in the battle to about 4,000. General Sherman narrowly escaped capture as the Confederates boarded his train and captured personal items, including his horse, Dolly. The battle raged around the fort and depot, and eventually, the Confederates drove all the Union forces into the fort, the depot or railroad cuts for protection. However, during the battle that lasted about five hours, neither side was able to gain control. Fearing reinforcements from Germantown, the Confederates withdrew without taking the fort. Estimated casualties were estimated at 164 Union and 128 Confederate.
Collierville (November 3, 1863) – While Major General William T. Sherman’s 15th Army Corps was in the process of marching to the relief of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Confederate Brigadier General James R. Chalmers led another attack on Collierville. However, Union Colonel Edward Hatch possessed more men than Chalmers supposed, stationed at Collierville and Germantown, five miles to the west. Scouts warned Hatch of Chalmers’s approach from the south, so he ordered Collierville’s defenders to be prepared and rode from Germantown with cavalry reinforcements. As he had done only three weeks earlier, General Chalmers attacked from the south with Colonels Benjamin McCulloch’s and W.F. Slemon’s brigades. The Union troops repulsed the attack, and Chalmers, concluding that he was outnumbered, called off the battle and, to ward off Union pursuit, withdrew back to Mississippi. The battle resulted in an estimated 60 Union casualties and 95 Confederate. In the meantime, the Memphis & Charleston Railroad remained open to Tuscumbia, Alabama, for Union troop movements.
Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign (November 1863)
Also called the Chattanooga Campaign, this was a series of maneuvers and battles taking place in Hamilton County and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Ringgold Gap in Georgia. Following the defeat of Major General William Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Chickamauga, Mississippi in September, the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg besieged Rosecrans and his men by occupying key high terrain around Chattanooga, Tennessee. Major General Ulysses S. Grant was given command of Union forces in the West, and significant reinforcements began to arrive with him in Chattanooga from Mississippi and the Eastern Theater. Grant replaced Rosecrans with Major General George Thomas, and a new supply line was soon established. Major General William T. Sherman’s arrived with his four divisions in mid-November, and the Federals began offensive operations.
Orchard Knob (November 23, 1863) – The first battle of the campaign occurred at Orchard Knob in Chattanooga when the Union Army observed columns of Confederate troops marching away from Missionary Ridge heard claims from Confederate deserters that the entire army was falling back. General Grant became concerned that Confederate General Braxton Bragg was massively reinforcing Confederate General Longstreet and sought to disrupt the movement. Major General George Thomas ordered his division under Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood to advance in force. Wood’s men were soon joined by Major General Philip Sheridan’s division, and General O.O. Howards 11th Corp, extending the line and presenting over 20,000 soldiers. At 1:30 p.m., 14,000 Union soldiers moved forward, sweeping across the plains, stunning the 600 Confederate defenders, who were able to fire only a single volley before they were overrun. Casualties were relatively small on both sides. Orchard Knob became Grant’s and Thomas’s headquarters for the remainder of the battles.
Lookout Mountain (November 24, 1863) – Major General Joseph Hooker, with about 10,000 men, was ordered to Lookout Mountain. The Union troops were opposed by Brigadier General Edward C. Walthall’s brigade of Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s division. The troops pushed Walthall’s badly outnumbered men back to the Cravens House, just below the mountain’s northern end. The men of Brigadier General John C. Brown’s Confederate brigade on the mountain top found themselves powerless to intervene in the battle raging below the cliffs. By about 3:00 p.m., thick fog enveloped the mountain, and though the two sides blazed away blindly, few men were hit. Realizing the battle was lost, General Braxton Bragg ordered the position abandoned, and at midnight when the fog cleared and, under a lunar eclipse, the Confederate troops retreated behind Chattanooga Creek, burning the bridges behind them.
Missionary Ridge (November 25, 1863) – General Grant ordered Sherman’s, Hooker’s, and Thomas’ troops to advance on Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, where General Braxton Bragg and his men had taken refuge. As the morning progressed, Sherman launched multiple direct assaults, but he made little headway despite his significantly larger force. Hooker’s advance was slowed for hours by the burned bridges on Chattanooga Creek at the southern end of the battlefield. However, Thomas and his men advanced and quickly pushed the Confederates from their rifle pits but were then subjected to a punishing fire from the Confederate positions up the ridge. At this point, the other Union soldiers began to attack the remaining lines. The Union advance was disorganized but effective, finally overwhelming and scattering what ought to have been an impregnable Confederate line. By 4:30 p.m., the center of Bragg’s line had broken completely, and the troops fled in panic, abandoning Missionary Ridge making a headlong retreat eastward to South Chickamauga Creek.
The combined casualties of the three battles were estimated at 5,815 Union and 6,670 Confederate. One last battle of the campaign would be fought at Ringgold Gap, Georgia, two days later, but this battle would result in a Confederate victory.