Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

Gen. Ewing's right, and returned to his own corps at Chattanooga.

As night closed in, I ordered General Jeff. C. Davis to keep one of

his brigades at the bridge, one close up to my position, and one

intermediate. Thus we passed the night, heavy details being kept

busy at work on the intrenchments on the hill. During the night

the sky cleared away bright, a cold frost filled the air, and our

camp-fires revealed to the enemy and to our friends in Chattanooga

our position on Missionary Ridge. About midnight I received, at

the hands of Major Rowley (of General Grant's staff), orders to

attack the enemy at "dawn of day," with notice that General Thomas

would attack in force early in the day. Accordingly, before day I

was in the saddle, attended by all my staff; rode to the extreme

left of our position near Chickamauga Creek; thence up the hill,

held by General Lightburn; and round to the extreme right of

General Ewing.

Catching as accurate an idea of the ground as possible by the dim

light of morning, I saw that our line of attack was in the

direction of Missionary Ridge, with wings supporting on either

flank. Quite a valley lay between us and the next hill of the

series, and this hill presented steep sides, the one to the west

partially cleared, but the other covered with the native forest.

The crest of the ridge was narrow and wooded. The farther point of

this hill was held-by the enemy with a breastwork of logs and fresh

earth, filled with men and two guns. The enemy was also seen in

great force on a still higher hill beyond the tunnel, from which he

had a fine plunging fire on the hill in dispute. The gorge

between, through which several roads and the railroad-tunnel pass,

could not be seen from our position, but formed the natural place

d'armes, where the enemy covered his masses to resist our

contemplated movement of turning his right flank arid endangering

his communications with his depot at Chickamauga Station.

As soon as possible, the following dispositions were made: The

brigades of Colonels Cockrell and Alexander, and General Lightburn,

were to hold our hill as the key-point. General Corse, with as

much of his brigade as could operate along the narrow ridge, was to

attack from our right centre. General Lightburn was to dispatch a

good regiment from his position to cooperate with General Corse;

and General Morgan L. Smith was to move along the east base of

Missionary Ridge, connecting with General Corse; and Colonel

Loomis, in like manner, to move along the west bank, supported by

the two reserve brigades of General John E. Smith.

The sun had hardly risen before General Corse had completed his

preparations and his bugle sounded the "forward !" The Fortieth

Illinois, supported by the Forty-sixth Ohio, on our right centre,

with the Thirtieth Ohio (Colonel Jones), moved down the face of our

hill, and up that held by the enemy. The line advanced to within

about eighty yards of the intrenched position, where General Corse

found a secondary crest, which he gained and held. To this point

he called his reserves, and asked for reenforcements, which were

sent; but the space was narrow, and it was not well to crowd the

men, as the enemy's artillery and musketry fire swept the approach

to his position, giving him great advantage. As soon as General

Corse had made his preparations, he assaulted, and a close, severe

contest ensued, which lasted more than an hour, gaining and losing

ground, but never the position first obtained, from which the enemy

in vain attempted to drive him. General Morgan L. Smith kept

gaining ground on the left spurs of Missionary Ridge, and Colonel

Loomis got abreast of the tunnel and railroad embankment on his

aide, drawing the enemy's fire, and to that extent relieving the

assaulting party on the hill-crest. Captain Callender had four of

his guns on General Ewing's hill, and Captain Woods his Napoleon

battery on General Lightburn's; also, two guns of Dillon's battery

were with Colonel Alexander's brigade. All directed their fire as

carefully as possible, to clear the hill to our front, without

endangering our own men. The fight raged furiously about 10 a.m.,

when General Corse received a severe wound, was brought off the

field, and the command of the brigade and of the assault at that

key-point devolved on that fine young, gallant officer, Colonel

Walcutt, of the Forty-sixth Ohio, who fulfilled his part manfully.

He continued the contest, pressing forward at all points. Colonel

Loomis had made good progress to the right, and about 2 p.m.,

General John E. Smith, judging the battle to be most severe on the

hill, and being required to support General Ewing, ordered up

Colonel Raum's and General Matthias's brigades across the field to

the summit that was being fought for. They moved up under a heavy

fire of cannon and musketry, and joined Colonel Walcutt; but the

crest was so narrow that they necessarily occupied the west face of

the hill. The enemy, at the time being massed in great strength in

the tunnel-gorge, moved a large force under cover of the ground and

the thick bushes, and suddenly appeared on the right rear of this

command. The suddenness of the attack disconcerted the men,

exposed as they were in the open field; they fell back in some

disorder to the lower edge of the field, and reformed. These two

brigades were in the nature of supports, and did not constitute a

part of the real attack.

The movement, seen from Chattanooga (five miles off ) with

spy-glasses, gave rise to the report, which even General Meiga has

repeated, that we were repulsed on the left. It was not so. The

real attacking columns of General Corse, Colonel Loomis, and

General Smith, were not repulsed. They engaged in a close struggle

all day persistently, stubbornly, and well. When the two reserve

brigades of General John E. Smith fell back as described, the enemy

made a show of pursuit, but were in their turn caught in flank by

the well-directed fire of our brigade on the wooded crest, and

hastily sought cover behind the hill. Thus matters stood about 3

p.m. The day was bright and clear, and the amphitheatre of

Chattanooga sat in beauty at our feet. I had watched for the

attack of General Thomas "early in the day." Column after column

of the enemy was streaming toward me; gun after gun poured its

concentric shot on us, from every hill and spur that gave a view of

any part of the ground held by us. An occasional shot from Fort

Wood and Orchard Knob, and some musketry-fire and artillery over

about Lookout Mountain, was all that I could detect on our side;

but about 3 p.m. I noticed the white line of musketry-fire in

front of Orchard Knoll extending farther and farther right and left

and on. We could only hear a faint echo of sound, but enough was

seen to satisfy me that General Thomas was at last moving on the

centre. I knew that our attack had drawn vast masses of the enemy

to our flank, and felt sure of the result. Some guns which had

been firing on us all day were silent, or were turned in a

different direction.

The advancing line of musketry-fire from Orchard Knoll disappeared

to us behind a spar of the hill, and could no longer be seen; and

it was not until night closed in that I knew that the troops in

Chattanooga had swept across Missionary Ridge and broken the

enemy's centre. Of course, the victory was won, and pursuit was

the next step.

I ordered General Morgan L. Smith to feel to the tunnel, and it was

found vacant, save by the dead and wounded of our own and the enemy

commingled. The reserve of General Jeff. C. Davis was ordered to

march at once by the pontoon-bridge across Chickamauga Creek, at

its mouth, and push forward for the depot.

General Howard had reported to me in the early part of the day,

with the remainder of his army corps (the Eleventh), and had been

posted to connect my left with Chickamauga Creek. He was ordered

to repair an old broken bridge about two miles up the Chickamauga,

and to follow General Davis at 4 a.m., and the Fifteenth Army Corps

was ordered to follow at daylight. But General Howard found that

to repair the bridge was more of a task than was at first supposed,

and we were all compelled to cross the Chickamauga on the new

pontoon-bridge at its mouth. By about 11 a.m. General Jeff. C.

Davis's division reached the depot, just in time to see it in

flames. He found the enemy occupying two hills, partially

intrenched, just beyond the depot. These he soon drove away. The

depot presented a scene of desolation that war alone exhibits--

corn-meal and corn in huge burning piles, broken wagons, abandoned

caissons, two thirty-two-pounder rifled-guns with carriages burned,

pieces of pontoons, balks and chesses, etc., destined doubtless for

the famous invasion of Kentucky, and all manner of things, burning

and broken. Still, the enemy kindly left us a good supply of

forage for our horses, and meal, beans, etc., for our men.

Pausing but a short while, we passed on, the road filled with

broken wagons and abandoned caissons, till night. Just as the head

of the column emerged from a dark, miry swamp, we encountered the

rear-guard of the retreating enemy. The fight was sharp, but the

night closed in so dark that we could not move. General Grant came

up to us there. At daylight we resumed the march, and at

Graysville, where a good bridge spanned the Chickamauga, we found

the corps of General Palmer on the south bank, who informed us that

General Hooker was on a road still farther south, and we could hear

his guns near Ringgold.

As the roads were filled with all the troops they could possibly

accommodate, I turned to the east, to fulfill another part of the

general plan, viz., to break up all communication between Bragg and


We had all sorts of rumors as to the latter, but it was manifest

that we should interpose a proper force between these two armies.

I therefore directed General Howard to move to Parker's Gap, and

thence send rapidly a competent force to Red Clay, or the

Council-Ground, there to destroy a large section of the railroad

which connects Dalton and Cleveland. This work was most

successfully and fully accomplished that day. The division of

General Jeff. C. Davis was moved close up to Ringgold, to assist

General Hooker if needed, and the Fifteenth Corps was held at

Grayeville, for any thing that might turn up. About noon I had a

message from General Hooker, saying he had had a pretty hard fight

at the mountain-pass just beyond Ringgold, and he wanted me to come

forward to turn the position. He was not aware at the time that

Howard, by moving through Parker's Gap toward Red Clay, had already

turned it. So I rode forward to Ringgold in person, and found the

enemy had already fallen back to Tunnel Hill. He was already out

of the valley of the Chickamauga, and on ground whence the waters

flow to the Coosa. He was out of Tennessee.

I found General Grant at Ringgold, and, after some explanations as

to breaking up the railroad from Ringgold back to the State line,

as soon as some cars loaded with wounded men could be pushed back

to Chickamauga depot, I was ordered to move slowly and leisurely

back to Chattanooga.

On the following day the Fifteenth Corps destroyed absolutely and

effectually the railroad from a point half-way between Ringgold and

Graysville, back to the State line; and General Grant, coming to

Graysville, consented that, instead of returning direct to

Chattanooga, I might send back all my artillery-wagons and

impediments, and make a circuit by the north as far as the

Hiawasaee River.

Accordingly, on the morning of November 29th, General Howard moved

from Parker's Gap to Cleveland, General Davis by way of McDaniel's

Gap, and General Blair with two divisions of the Fifteenth Corps by

way of Julien's Gap, all meeting at Cleveland that night. Here

another good break was made in the Dalton & Cleveland road. On the

30th the army moved to Charleston, General Howard approaching so

rapidly that the enemy evacuated with haste, leaving the bridge but

partially damaged, and five car-loads of flour and provisions on

the north bank of the Hiawassee.

This was to have been the limit of our operations. Officers and

men had brought no baggage or provisions, and the weather was

bitter cold. I had already reached the town of Charleston, when

General Wilson arrived with a letter from General Grant, at

Chattanooga, informing me that the latest authentic accounts from

Knoxville were to the 27th, at which time General Burnside was

completely invested, and had provisions only to include the 3d of

December; that General Granger had left Chattanooga for Knoxville,

by the river-road, with a steamboat following him in the river; but

he feared that General Granger could not reach Knoxville in time,

and ordered me to take command of all troops moving for the relief

of Knoxville, and hasten to General Burnside. Seven days before,

we had left our camps on the other side of the Tennessee with two

days' rations, without a change of clothing--stripped for the

fight, with but a single blanket or coat per man, from myself to

the private included.

Of course, we then had no provisions save what we gathered by the

road, and were ill supplied for such a march. But we learned that

twelve thousand of our fellow-soldiers were beleaguered in the

mountain town of Knoxville, eighty-four miles distant; that they

needed relief, and must have it in three days. This was enough--

and it had to be done. General Howard that night repaired and

planked the railroad-bridge, and at daylight the army passed over

the Hiawassee and marched to Athens, fifteen miles. I had supposed

rightly that General Granger was about the mouth of the Hiawassee,

and had sent him notice of my orders; that General Grant had sent

me a copy of his written instructions, which were full and

complete, and that he must push for Kingston, near which we would

make a junction. But by the time I reached Athens I had better

studied the geography, and sent him orders, which found him at

Decatur, that Kingston was out of our way; that he should send his

boat to Kingston, but with his command strike across to

Philadelphia, and report to me there. I had but a small force of

cavalry, which was, at the time of my receipt of General Grant's

orders, scouting over about Benton and Columbus. I left my aide,

Major McCoy, at Charleston, to communicate with this cavalry and

hurry it forward. It overtook me in the night at Athens.

On the 2d of December the army moved rapidly north toward Loudon,

twenty-six miles distant. About 11 a.m., the cavalry passed to the

head of the column, was ordered to push to London, and, if

possible, to save a pontoon-bridge across the Tennessee, held by a

brigade of the enemy commanded by General Vaughn. The cavalry

moved with such rapidity as to capture every picket; but the

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