Sunday, March 18, 2007


Dates 21 September to 25 November, 1863


Union: Major General William Rosecrans, then Major General George Thomas commanding the Army of the Cumberland. Overseen by Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of Union armies in the West.

Confederate: General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Tennessee.

Prelude: Union forces were streaming into Chattanooga following their defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga. Rosecrans has his commanders begin to prepare defenses. His first mistake was not to use the surrounding mountain ranges, but instead established his lines in the valley.

Chattanooga sits on a bend in the Tennessee River. To the southwest sits Lookout Mountain, to the east sits Missionary Ridge. Rosecrans believed that he would not be able to hold the ridges and that a shorter defense line was proper. He did not know that Bragg was disorganized as his men wasted time looting the Chickamauga battlefield. Bragg’s cavalry, under Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest had spotted the retreating Federals in total disarray and pressed Bragg to attack. Bragg is slow to respond and parts of his army do not move until the late afternoon of 21 September.

22 September, 1863: Braggs advance troops reach the outer line of the Federal defenses. Bragg sees his chance to destroy the Union Army in Tennessee slip away and decides on a siege. He orders his troops to occupy Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Little does he know that events far away are moving to permanently rob him of the victory he seeks.

23 September, 1863: Evening: US President Abraham Lincoln has retired for the night at the Soldiers’ Home, where he goes to sleep in summer, the White House being too hot during that time of year. Earlier, he received a telegram from Rosecrans assuring that Chattanooga can be held. He goes to sleep with that knowledge buy his secretary, John Hay, awakens him with the news that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton has called a Council of War to discuss the situation in Tennessee. Lincoln rides back into Washington for the meeting.

24 September, 1863: Early Morning: At the Council of War, it is decided that is was in the best interest of the Union war effort that Chattanooga be held. The city as a junction of road, river and rail traffic would be essential to future Union operations, either to Mobile, AL or Atlanta, GA. It was decided to reinforce the garrison. Orders were prepared to Grant to send his forces there. Other orders were prepared for the Army of the Potomac to send troops to Chattanooga. Another order was for Major General Ambrose Burnside to march his troops to aid Rosecrans. A final order named Grant overall commander of Union forces in the West with direct control over the situation in Tennessee.

That same day saw the Union troops in Chattanooga almost surrounded. With Confederate troops on Lookout Mountain, the main supply line coming from Alabama is cut off.

25 September, 1863: Burnside receives his orders, but decides to march on Jonesboro’, TN instead. In Virginia Major General Joseph Hooker is given command of a force consisting of XI and XII Corps. The 20,000 Federal soldiers are pulled out of their lines and begin transport to Tennessee.

28 September, 1863: In the Union camp, the recriminations are flying over the defeat at Chickamauga. Rosecrans brought charges against Major Generals Alexander McCook and Thomas Crittenden and they were ordered to Indianapolis, IN to stand before a court of inquiry. When news of this got out, the moral sank further that it already was. The food situation was already getting bad.

29 September, 1863: Grant receives orders to go to Rosecrans’ aid. As such, ha was already moving troops in that direction. The corps of Major General William Sherman was enroute and that most of the Federal troops in Vicksburg, MS was also ordered to march east, under Major General James McPherson.

30 September, 1863: In order to close the box on the Federals in Chattanooga, Bragg orders his cavalry, under Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler to raid the Union rear. Rosecrans is sealed in with only a mountain road at his disposal, but no easy way to get supplies in.

2 October, 1863: Help is arriving in the form of Hooker’s troops reaching Stevenson, AL. In one week, 20,000 men and 3000 horses and mules were transported by rail in a movement that would have taken at least a month only a few years ago.

3 October, 1863: Hooker makes his headquarters at Stevenson while sending XI Corps, under Major General Oliver Howard to nearby Bridgeport. This places a railhead and a river port squarely in Union hands.

4 October, 1863: Hooker notes with approval the construction of flat bottomed boats for transporting supplies into the beleaguered garrison.

6 October, 1863: Rain storms lash the area, making a terrible situation worse for the Union troops and the citizens trapped in Chattanooga. Most of the wooden structures were stripped to build up the trenches.

As the food situation worsened, the army horses and mules are slaughtered for meat and hardtack, large crackers used as rations, are limited to one a day.

On the Confederate side, all was not harmony. Bragg never got along with his commanders and blamed then for not destroying the Federals after Chickamauga. The discord was reported to Richmond, VA, prompting CS President Jefferson Davis to pay the Army of Tennessee a visit.

10 October, 1863: Davis arrives at Chattanooga to learn first hand of the discontent in the Army of Tennessee. He invites those commanders to speak freely and to his dismay, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, who was attached to the Army of Tennessee from the Army of Northern Virginia, does just that. Longstreet offers to resign, which Davis refuses. Longstreet also recommends the removal of Bragg and replacing him with General Joseph Johnston. Davis also refuses that.

It seems that Davis, who was friends with Bragg since the Battle of Buena Vista on 23 February, 1847. During that Mexican War battle, Bragg’s artillery was supported by Davis’ Mississippi Rifles. Davis could not bring it upon himself to sack his old friend.

11 October, 1863: Sherman’s troops leave Memphis, TN for Corinth, MS, enroute to reinforce Chattanooga.

18 October, 1863: Grant, in his capacity as commander of the Union’s western armies, orders that Rosecrans be relieved of command at Chattanooga. His replacement is Thomas, who was already being called “The Rock of Chickamauga” for his stubborn defense during that battle. Thomas’ first order was to declare that “We will hold this town until we starve.” Grant also decided that he will personally oversee the operation.

21 October, 1863: Grant arrives in Stevenson and haves an meeting with Rosecrans, who is traveling north after turning his command over to Thomas. Rosecrans will not have another major command for the remainder of the war.

23 October, 1863: Grant arrives in Chattanooga. During the trip, he saw first hand the problems of maintaining a supply line and devises a plan to get a secure line opened to Bridgeport. Thomas already has a plan for that and Grant gives his permission to execute it.

26 October, 1863: Hooker advances east from Stevenson with the objective to capturing a ferry crossing west of Chattanooga. Thomas sends what troops he can to help secure that.

Brown’s Ferry is located west of Chattanooga around a bend in the river called Moccasin Point. The ferry crossing is linked to another crossing call Flying Ferry at the town itself. If Brown’s Ferry can be captured, a secure supply line can be opened by both road and river. This would also extend the Union lines past Lookout Mountain.

27 October, 1863: 5 a.m.: Confederate pickets are surprised by Union troops arriving by pontoon boats at Brown’s Ferry. Another Federal forces marches overland in support. By 10 a.m. the ferry crossing is secure and a pontoon bridge built across the river.

28 October, 1863: Hooker’s troops arrive and secure the west end of the crossing. The supply line if finally opened.

Longstreet and his forces on Lookout Mountain see this and realize that a frontal attack was not possible. He decides on a night attack.

29 October, 1863: Early Morning: Longstreet sends a division under Brigadier General Micah Jenkins to attack the Union troops at Brown’s Ferry. Under a clear. moonlit sky, the Confederates rum into Brigadier General John Geary’s Union division. Longstreet directs the battle by signal flares but the code he was using had been already cracked by the Federals. Still, the fighting was uncoordinated. The Confederates were driven off but it came at a personal price to Geary. His son was commanding an artillery battery and was killed in the battle.

With the ferry crossing secured, the first boatload of supplies is quickly sent to Chattanooga. And not too soon, the warehouse had four boxes of hardtack left.

31 October, 1863: The cry goes up, “The Cracker Line is open! Full rations boys.” This cry gave the supply line its name, The Cracker Line, and lifted the spirits up the spirits of the Federal troops in Chattanooga. This effectively cracked the siege, but there is still the issue of driving Bragg off.

1 November, 1863: Sherman’s troops reach Eastport, TN and cross the Tennessee River.

4 November, 1863: The discontent in the Army of Tennessee is still raging. Bragg orders Longstreet and Wheeler to move to Knoxville, where Burnside is bottled up. For the time being, Grant will ignore Knoxville.

Over the next two weeks, Bragg will get rid of any officer who opposed him commanding the Army of Tennessee.

14 November, 1863: Sherman arrives in Chattanooga. After conferring with Grant and seeing the poor, but improving condition of Thomas’ forces, it was decided the use the new troops to dislodge the Confederates.

15 November, 1863: Grant orders the breakout. The plan was to leave the Army of the Cumberland in their positions while Hooker and Sherman launch the assault.

20 November, 1863: Despite pouring rain, Sherman’s troops cross Brown’s Ferry to take up positions facing the Confederate right. Hooker is assigned the task of taking Lookout Mountain.

21 November, 1863: Grant changes his plan slightly. He now plans to use the Army of the Cumberland to clear a hill called Orchard Knob, a small hill near Missionary Ridge.

At the same time, Grant reorganizes the Army of the Cumberland into a smaller force, detaching XX Corps to support Sherman and XIV to support Hooker. Also, XX and XXI Corps are combined and renamed IV Corps.

23 November, 1863: There is a parade consisting of the divisions of Brigadier Generals Thomas Wood and Philip Sheridan taking place within their lines. To make things interesting, Union artillery fire on Confederate positions on Missionary Ridge. At a signal, both divisions change to line of battle formation and rush Orchard Knob, capturing it and establishing a defensive line.

Bragg complicates his situation by agreeing to a request to send Major General Patrick Cleburne’s division to assist Longstreet in taking Knoxville.

24 November, 1863: Rain and fog cover the area as Hooker sends his troops forward to Lookout Mountain. Despite the weather, the Federals take the Confederate positions with ease. Because of the fact that the top of Lookout Mountain was covered in fog, the assault became known as “The Battle Above the Clouds.” Actually, the assault came as a shock to the Confederates, who withdrew.

25 November, 1863: Battle of Chattanooga: Dawn: Sunrise reveals that the Federals have taken Lookout Mountain. Bragg orders Cleburne back to Chattanooga. Cleburne manages to reform in their position, assisted by troops under Lieutenant General William Hardee.

11:00 a.m.: Sherman launches his assault on the Confederate right. This stalls in front of Cleburne’s position. Meanwhile, Hooker advances from Lookout Mountain but is stalled at Chattanooga Creek while a pontoon bridge is built, the previous on having been destroyed by the retreating Confederates.

Things become stable for a while, Bragg was in a good position that should make it difficult for the Union forces to dislodge him.

3:00 p.m.: Both Wood’s and Sheridan’s divisions maneuver in front of Missionary Ridge in order to draw Confederate troops to the center. Thomas orders then to seize a line of positions in front of the ridge but to go no further. As that line was captured, the Union troops continued to go forward, beginning to climb the ridge under heavy Confederate fire. Grant sees this and sends orders to stop. The couriers never reach Wood or Sheridan. As their troops reach the top of the ridge and the Confederate center, Thomas, seeing that it could not be stopped, orders his whole army forward up Missionary Ridge. This assault splits the Confederate line at the center, causing the Southern troops to retreat. Bragg sees this and orders a withdrawal into Georgia. Hardee and Cleburne hold their line long enough to let their comrades escape.

Bragg manages to keep most of his command intact, despite losing 6667 out of a force of 64,000. The Federals lost 5824 out of 56,000 men.

Chattanooga was finally secured and could be used as a base for operations into the Deep south.

Bragg would resign his command in 1 December, 1863. He would be replaced by Johnston. Bragg would become a military advisor to CS President Davis and soon after in command of the garrison of Wilmington, NC, where he does not respond to the attack on Fort Fisher in January of 1865. his command is folded into General Joe Johnston’s command and was present at the surrender at Durham Station on 26 April, 1865. Bragg spends time as the Chief Engineer of Alabama before moving to Texas. He dies in 1876.

Within a few months, Grant would be promoted to Lieutenant General and given command of all Union armies.

Sherman would receive command of the all Federal armies in the West, molding three armies into one and in spring of 1864, would start his campaign against Atlanta. Thomas would be one of his army commanders.

Sheridan was noticed by Grant and brought east with him. He would command the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac and would be instrumental in destroying Lieutenant General Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley and in battles from Five Forks to Appomattox Court House.

It is interesting to note that for the unauthorized assault on Missionary Ridge, seven Medals of Honor were given out. One of these was awarded to Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur, 19 at the time, for planting the colors on Missionary Ridge. He stayed in the US Army and served in the Spanish-American War, becoming a Major General and commanding US forces in the Philippines. His son was Douglas MacArthur, who also commanded US forces in the Philippines at the outbreak of World War II and would be instrumental in liberating that country.

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