The Battle of Chattanooga, and the Remarkable Stories of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge
November 23-25, 1863. Since their defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, the Union army was besieged inside of Chattanooga, cold, and hungry. For the first time in history, railroads were used to rush troops and materiel to relieve them: in eleven days, twenty thousand troops, equipment, including horses and artillery, were assembled, and transported 1,200 miles from Virginia to Chattanooga. (1)
In October 1863, Lincoln had named U.S. Grant to command all the Union armies between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. Grant hurried to Chattanooga, replaced General William Rosecrans with General George Henry Thomas, the Rock of Chicakamauga, as commander of the Army of the Cumberland, and things got moving. He punched a hole through the siege, laid a pontoon bridge across the Tennessee River, and set up a short supply line to feed his troops.
Historian Geoffrey C. Ward writes that Confederate General Braxton “Bragg’s army occupied the six-mile crest of Missionary Ridge east of the city, and Confederate guns [were] massed on the two-thousand-foot summit of Lookout Mountain . . . Grant resolved to drive them off.
“The two-day battle of Chattanooga began on November 24. . . .[Union General] Joe Hooker’s men stormed Lookout Mountain and planted the Stars and Stripes on the summit, fighting through such dense fog that it was remembered as the ‘Battle Above the Clouds.’
“The next day, George Thomas’s veterans of Chickamauga were asked to make a limited attack on the first line of Confederate trenches below Missionary Ridge, while William Tecumseh Sherman launched an assault on the Confederate right. The southern positions looked impregnable: artillery lining the crest; rifle pits along the slope; trenches at the base of the hill. [The Confederate commander, General Bragg, was confident that “There are not enough Yankees in ‘Chattanooga to come up here.”]
“Thomas’s men moved toward the hill and overran the trenches at its bottom, then waited for orders.
“With them was General Phil Sheridan, . . .whose 115 pounds were no measure of his courage or energy. He pulled a flask from his pocket and toasted the Confederate gunners on the slope above him. ‘Here’s at you,’ he shouted. They opened fire, spattering him and his officers with dirt. Furious, Sheridan roared, ‘That was ungenerous! I’ll take your guns for that!’
“It was all his men needed. They started up the slope toward the rebel guns.”
“The men were determined to avenge themselves. Shouting ‘Chickamauga! Chickamauga!’ they fought their way past the rifle pits and on toward the summit. . . .
“Sections of the slope were so steep that the Union troops had to crawl; some men used tree branches or bayonets to haul themselves up, but they kept coming.” The Confederate defenders shot down upon them and lighted the fuses of shells and rolled them down the hill, but nothing could stop the Union charge.” (2)
Historian Phillip Shaw Paloudan writes, “Grant demanded angrily, ‘Who ordered those men up the hill?’ but then, along with Thomas, watched thrilled as the men advanced to the top, sending the rebel army in headlong flight. At the top of the ridge the scene was ‘as wild as a carnival. . . . Men flung themselves exhausted upon the ground. They laughed and wept, shook hands, embraced; turned round and did all four over again.’ Their commander general Granger made it to the top shortly after and shouted, ‘Soldiers, you ought to be court-martialed every man of you, I ordered you to take the rifle pits and you scaled the mountain.’ But there were tears in his eyes. (3)
Four thousand Confederates were taken prisoner.
1.) The American Civil War 365 Days, Margaret E. Wagner, ed. p. “July 24.”
2.) Geoffrey C. Ward, The Civil War, An Illustrated History, pp. 258, 260-61.
3.) Paladun “A People’s Contest,” pp. 299-300.
Editor’s note: All entries were submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council, executive director