THE Confederate leaders and the army commanders were sanguine of the success of the siege of Chattanooga up to the very moment of its failure. General Bragg had, for a time, just ground for sanguine expectations, as the elements were his allies. At the time of greatest promise, the oracular Confederate President appeared on Lookout Mountain, and from "Pulpit Rock," as he looked down exultingly upon the beleaguered army, predicted its total ruin. But the loss of Lookout Valley, the river, and the direct roads to Bridgeport virtually threw Bragg upon the defensive. It is true that he maintained his lines on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and through the intervening valley, in semblance of besieging effort, until the army with which he had so often battled leaped from its intrenchments and hurled him and his oft-defeated army from their lofty battlements. But he made no movement of actual offence against Chattanooga during the time the Army of the Cumberland was preparing to assume the boldest aggression. ..
The town is surrounded with almost all the types of the grand and beautiful in nature. Mountains far and near, rising from water and plain, sharply defined by low valleys and the river curving at their feet; subordinate hills with rounded summits and undulating slopes, and broad plains delicately pencilled here and there by winding creeks and rivulets, are the prominent features of nature's amphitheatre, in the centre of which is Chattanooga.
Looking to the southwest, Lookout Mountain, with bold front and craggy crest, is seen rising abruptly from the river and the valleys on either side; to the west, Raccoon Mountain appears, trending from its river-front far to the southwest, parallel with Lookout; to the north, Waldron's Ridge forms the sky-line far to right and left; to the east, Missionary Ridge, with indented summit, more humbly takes position, hiding the lofty ranges far beyond; to the south, the east, and to the northeast, stretches the plain where the armies were marshalled for the assault of Bragg's army on Missionary Ridge; and to the south-west, twice across the river, lies the valley from which Hooker crept slyly up the mountain-steeps, covered with trees and shrubs, standing and fallen, and with huge fragments of stone, which during the ages have dropped from the ledges overhanging the crest, to give battle on a field suited to the stealthy belligerence of the Indian, but adverse in every phase to the repetition of all the precedents of modern warfare. But this battle-field defies description, and he who would fully appreciate either battle or field must read the story of the one as he looks down from Lookout Mountain upon the magnificence of the other.
On November 7, Grant had ordered General Thomas to attack the north end of Missionary Ridge, but this order was recalled, as the army was not ready for battle. Later in the month Sherman reached the town, and on the 23d an assault was made on Orchard Knob, an isolated hill between the town and the ridge. This movement was intended as a reconnoissance, but unexpectedly the hill was carried and a highly-important advantage gained. On the 24th, General Hooker, who was in position for an assault upon Look-out Mountain, moved upon this seemingly impregnable height.
On the front of Lookout Mountain, intermediate between base and summit, there is a wide open space, cultivated as a farm, in vivid contrast with the natural surroundings of wildest types. The farm-house, known as Craven's or "the white house," was situated upon the upper margin of the farm. From the house to the foundation of the perpendicular cliff or palisade which crops out from the rock-ribbed frame of the mountain, the ascent is exceedingly steep and thickly wooded. Below the farm the surface is rough and craggy. The base of the mountain, next the river, has a perpendicular front of solid rock, rising grandly from the railroad-track, which, though in part cut through the deep ledges, does not perceptibly mar nature's magnificent architecture. Over the top of this foundation-front the narrow road passes, which in the western valley throws off various branches, leading west and south. East and west from Craven's farm the surface is broken by furrows and covered with shrubs, trees, and fragments of stone. On the open space the enemy had constructed his defences, consisting of intrenchments, pits, and redoubts, which, extending over the front of the mountain, bade defiance to a foe advancing from the river. At the extremities of the main intrechments there were rifle-pits, epaulements for batteries, barricades of stone and abatis, looking to resistance against aggression from Chattanooga or Lookout Valley. The road from Chattanooga to Summertown, an elegant village for summer resort, winding up the eastern side of the mountain, is the only one practicable for ordinary military movements within a range of many miles. So that, except by this road, there could be no transfer of troops from the summit to the northern slope, or to the valley, east or west, to meet the emergencies of battle, and this road was too long to allow provision from the top for sudden contingencies below.
At 8 A. M. Geary crossed the creek, captured the pickets of the enemy, and then crept up the mountain-side until his right, which was his front in the ascent, touched the base of the palisaded summit. The fog which overhung the mountain-top and upper steeps, and the dense woods, concealed the movement. Then, with his right clinging to the palisades, he swept round towards the mountain's front. Simultaneously with Geary's first movement Grose attached the enemy at the bridge, and, having driven him back, commenced its repair. The noise of this conflict called the enemy's nearest forces from their camps. They formed in front of their intrenchments and rifle-pits; and one detachment advanced to the railroad-embankment, which formed a good parapet and admitted a sweeping fire upon the national troops advancing from the bridge. To avoid the loss of life inevitable in a direct advance, General Hooker directed Osterhaus, now commanding his division, to send a brigade to prepare a crossing a half mile farther up the creek, under cover of the woods. A portion of Grose's brigade having been left at the bridge to attract the attention of the enemy, the remainder followed Woods' brigade to assist in the construction of the bridge. In the mean time, additional artillery had been posted, which, with the batteries first planted on the hills west of the creek, enfiladed all the proximate positions of the enemy. A section of twenty-pounder Parrotts had also the range of the enemy's camp on the mountain-side; and on Moccasin Point, Brannan's guns were in position to open a direct fire upon the front of the mountain.
At 11 A. M. Woods completed the bridge, and soon after Geary's division and Whittaker's brigade, in line, sweeping the mountain from base to palisade, came abreast. The batteries then opened fire, and Woods and Grose crossed the creek and aligned their troops on Geary's left as it swept down the valley. The troops of the enemy, in the first positions, that escaped the artillery fire, ran into the infantry lines, so that quick overthrow occurred to all the troops that had taken position in the valley and near the western base of the mountain. Many were killed, more were wounded, and the remainder were captured, and then the line moved onward towards the mountain's front.
The booming of the heavy guns, with interludes of light artillery and musketry fire, announced to friend and foe in the distant lines that an action was in progress where battle had not been expected. Quietness reigning throughout the other hills and valleys compassed by the long lines of the contending armies, the contest on the mountain-side, revealed by its noise, but as yet hidden from sight, commanded the profoundest attention and interest of far more than one hundred thousand men. Those not held by duty' or the constraint of orders, in crowds sought the elevated lookouts, and, with glasses and strained vision, turned their gaze to the woods, fog, and battle-smoke which concealed the anomalous contest. As the increasing roar of musketry indicated the sweep of the battle to the east, the anxiety for its revelation on the open ground became intense. Soon through the clefts of the fog could be seen the routed enemy in rapid motion, followed by Hooker's line, with its right under the palisade and its continuity lost to view far down the mountain. Whittaker held the right, under the cliffs, and below were the brigades of Cobham, Ireland, and Creighton; and this line hurled the enemy from position after position, climbing over crags and boulders for attack and pursuit, and reached at noon the point where orders required a halt for readjustment of lines and a more cautious approach towards the Summertown road. But as on the following day, in the assault made by other portions of the Army of the Cumberland, the restraint of orders did not arrest the pursuit of the flying foe, so now these victorious troops swept on. With a plunging fire from above and behind they rolled up the enemy's line, and, lifting it from its intrenchments, made no half until the middle of the open ground was gained. Here the enemy met reinforcements and made a more determined stand. Soon, however, Grose's brigade of Cruft's division, and Osterhaus' command, having gathered up the captured on the lower ground, closed on the left, and then the enemy was driven from all his defences on the open ground, and with broken ranks retreated down the eastern descent of the mountain.
The heavy Parrotts and the Tenth and Eighteenth Ohio batteries, under Captain Naylor, on Moccasin Point, rendered important aid to the assaulting forces, by preventing the concentration of the enemy's troops. But the potent cause of the victory was the fact that brave men reached the flank and rear of the enemy's defences.
The heavy fighting ceased at 2 P. M. General Hooker's troops had exhausted their ammunition, as no trains could reach them. Besides this want of ammunition, as a bar to further fighting, the fog which had overhung the mountain during the day settled down densely over the enemy. But for these obstacles, and the fact that the enemy could now concentrate heavily to prevent the insulation of his troops on the mountain-top, an effort would have been made to seize the Summertown road. Hooker, therefore, waited for ammunition and reinforcements. At 5 P. M. Carlin's brigade of the First Division of the Fourteenth Corps crossed the Chattanooga Creek, near its mouth, and ascended the mountain to Hooker's right. The troops of this brigade carried on their persons ammunition for Hooker's skirmishers, in addition to the ordinary supply for themselves. Servere skirmishing was then maintained until nearly midnight.
On the 24th, General Sherman occupied the two northernmost summits of Missionary Ridge, which had been abandoned by the enemy. Between this point and Bragg's lines was a deep depression, which must be crossed before the Confederate lines could be reached. The battle of the 25th began early in the day, but, though persistent fighting continued till nearly evening, no important progress was made. General Hooker had been directed, early in the day, to move against Bragg's left, across the valley between the two ridges. General Thomas, who had been held to move in co-operation with Sherman, was ordered to make an independent attack upon the enemy's centre. Four divisions were in line, in readiness for this assault, but night was near at hand when the order came.
Between 3 and 4 P. M. six successive cannon-shots from the battery on Orchard Knob gave the signal for the advance. General Grant's order required that the enemy should be dislodged from the rifle-pits and intrenchments at the base of Missionary Ridge. The statement is made in his official report that it was his design that the lines should be readjusted at the base for the assault of the summit; but no such instructions were given to corps or division generals. Neither does it appear from his report whether he meditated an independent assault of the summit from his centre, or one co-operative with Sherman on the left, or Hooker on the right, as the original plan prescribed for the former or as the issues of the day suggested for the latter.
As soon as the magnificent lines moved forward, the batteries of the enemy on the ridge opened upon them with great activity. General Brannan's large guns in Fort Wood, Fort Cheatham, Battery Rousseau, and Fort Sheridan, and four light batteries on the intermediate hills, which had not been silent hitherto, gave emphatic response. Their fire was first directed to the enemy's inferior intrenchments, and when this endangered the advancing lines their missiles were thrown upon the summit. This change of direction was soon necessary, as, leaping forward at the signal, the eager troops in rapid movement first met the enemy's pickets and their reserves, then his troops occupying the intervening woods, and finally his stronger line in his lower intrenchments, and drove all in confusion to the crest of the ridge. In vain had General Bragg made effort to strengthen his lower line. The advance of the national troops had been so rapid, and their movement had expressed such purpose and power, that the very forces that had so often repeated their furious assaults at Chickamauga lost courage and made no soldierly effort to maintain their position, though supported by at least fifty guns, which, at short range, were fast decimating the assaulting columns.
Having executed their orders to the utmost requirement, holding the enemy's lower defences, the four divisions stood under his batteries, while the troops they had routed threw themselves behind the stronger intrenchments on the summit. General Bragg's right flank had not been turned, as first proposed, and General Hooker's attack on his left, though successful, was too remote to affect immediately the central contest. To stand still was death; to fall back was not compassed by orders, and was forbidden by every impulse of the brave men who, with no stragglers to mar the symmetry of their line or make scarcely a single exception to universal gallantry, had moved so boldly and so successfully upon the foe. There are occasional moments in battle when brave men do not need commanders, and this was one. The enemy held a position of wonderful strength several hundred feet above them. He had two lines in one behind earthworks, where nature had provided a fortress. These men, however, did not stop to consider the enemy's position or strength, but, from a common impulse of patriotism and the inspiration of partial success, leaped forward and dashed up the hill. The color-bearers sprang to the front, and as one fell another bore the flag aloft and onward, followed by their gallant comrades, not in line, but in such masses as enabled them to avail themselves of easier ascent or partial cover. They advanced without firing, though receiving a most destructive fire of artillery and musketry, from base to summit. The officers of all grades caught the spirit of the men, and so eager were men and officers throughout the line that the crest was reached and carried at six different points almost at the same moment. The enemy was hurled from position with wonderful quickness; his artillery was captured, and in some cases turned against him as he fled. General Hooker soon swept northward from Rossville, and then the Army of the Cumberland held Missionary Ridge the whole length of its front. General Hardee's forces, opposite General Sherman, alone maintained position.
To this general result each of the four central divisions and those with General Hooker contributed, in co-ordination and harmony unprecedented in an improvised attack. Each one was successful, though each was not equally prominent in success. From General Bragg's declaration that his line was first pierced on his right,--that is, to the north of the house which he occupied as his head-quarters,--and from the observation of those occupying elevated positions, there is no room to doubt that General Woods' division first reached the summit. Sheridan's and Baird's, on the right and left, almost simultaneously gained the crest. General Woods' troops enfiladed the enemy's line to the right and left as soon as they broke through it, and the other divisions pressed against other points so quickly that General Bragg's effort to dislodge the troops who first gained his intrenchments, by sending General Bate to the right, miscarried at its very inception. After portions of the several divisions had gained the crest, many isolated contests were conducted with spirit by the enemy, but the fragments of his line were speedily brushed away.
The impulse to carry the summit of the ridge was seemingly spontaneous, though not entirely simultaneous, throughout the four divisions, and from different points several brigades passed beyond the limit fixed by General Grant's order before there was any concerted action towards a general assault. The division commanders did not arrest their troops, and for a time the corps generals did not give official sanction to their advance. The impression, indeed, so far prevailed that the movement would not be authorized, that Turchin's brigade, on the right of Baird's division, was halted when far up the ascent, and Wagner's brigade, on the left of Sheridan's division, was recalled from an advanced position by a staff-officer who was returning to General Sheridan from General Granger with the information that General Grant's order required only that the enemy's intrenched line at the base of the ridge should be carried. Soon, however, it was apparent to all that the eagerness of the troops had created a necessity superior to the limitations of orders, and this conviction gave unity and energy to an assault whose transcendent issue justified its otherwise unauthorized execution.
To prevent defeat, Generals Bragg, Hardee, Breckinridge, and others of inferior rank exerted themselves to the utmost. General Bragg, in the centre, was nearly surrounded before he entirely despaired and abandoned the field. General Breckinridge resisted General Hooker as he ascended the ridge at Rossville, availing himself of the fortifications which had been constructed by the national army after the battle of Chickamauga. His first resistance was quickly overcome by the Ninth and Thirty-Sixth Regiments of Grose's brigade. General Cruft's division was then formed in four lines on the summit, and, with the lateral divisions abreast, moved rapidly forward, driving the enemy in turn from several positions. Many of his troops, that fled east or west, were captured by Osterhaus or Geary, and those who tried to escape northward fell into Johnson's hands. As soon as General Hardee heard the noise of battle to his left, he hastened to join his troops under General Anderson, on the right of their central line. But before he could cross the chasm corresponding to the interval between General Sherman's right and General Thomas' left, Anderson's command was thrown into a confused retreat. He then hurried Cheatham's division from the vicinity of the tunnel, and formed it across the summit to resist Baird's division, which had advanced northward, after carrying its entire front, in the assault. In a severe contest, in which Colonel Phelps, a brigade commander, fell, General Baird pressed this fresh division northward from several knolls, but was finally compelled to abandon the conflict by the peculiar strength of a new position and the approach of darkness.
The victory was gained too late in the day for a general pursuit. General Sheridan's division and Willich's brigade of General Woods' division pursued the enemy for a short distance down the eastern slope. Later, General Sheridan advanced and drove the enemy from a strong position, captured two pieces of artillery, numerous small-arms, and several wagons from a supply-train.
During the night General Hardee withdrew his forces from the position which he had persistently held against General Sherman.
Pursuit was made early the next day, and an engagement took place at Ringgold, with skirmishes at other points. General Sherman was sent on a rapid march to Knoxville, to relieve Burnside, whose army was in great danger. This important duty was successfully performed, and Longstreet, who had been besieging Knoxville, withdrew to Virginia.
The official reports of the commanders-in-chief of the two armies do not give their strength. It is probable that General Grant had sixty thousand men in action, and General Bragg forty thousand. The former had thirteen divisions, including two detached brigades, and the latter had eight, with perhaps a corresponding diminution.
General Bragg's loss in killed and wounded is not known. He lost by capture six thousand one hundred and forty-two men, forty-two guns, sixty-nine gun-carriages, and seven thousand stand of small-arms. His loss in material was immense, part of which he destroyed in his flight, but a large fraction, which was uninjured, fell to the national army.
The aggregate losses of the Armies of the Cumberland and Tennessee were seven hundred and fifty-seven killed, four thousand five hundred and twenty-nine wounded, and three hundred and thirty missing. These losses were small compared with those of other battles of similar proportions, and exceedingly small in view of the fact that the enemy generally resisted behind intrenchments.
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