Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Hooker’s position in Lookout Valley was absolutely essential to
us so long as Chattanooga was besieged. It was the key to our
line for supplying the army. But it was not essential after the
enemy was dispersed from our front, or even after the battle for
this purpose was begun. Hooker’s orders, therefore, were
designed to get his force past Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga
Valley, and up to Missionary Ridge. By crossing the north face
of Lookout the troops would come into Chattanooga Valley in rear
of the line held by the enemy across the valley, and would
necessarily force its evacuation. Orders were accordingly given
to march by this route. But days before the battle began the
advantages as well as the disadvantages of this plan of action
were all considered. The passage over the mountain was a
difficult one to make in the face of an enemy. It might consume
so much time as to lose us the use of the troops engaged in it at
other points where they were more wanted. After reaching
Chattanooga Valley, the creek of the same name, quite a
formidable stream to get an army over, had to be crossed. I was
perfectly willing that the enemy should keep Lookout Mountain
until we got through with the troops on Missionary Ridge. By
marching Hooker to the north side of the river, thence up the
stream, and recrossing at the town, he could be got in position
at any named time; when in this new position, he would have
Chattanooga Creek behind him, and the attack on Missionary Ridge
would unquestionably cause the evacuation by the enemy of his
line across the valley and on Lookout Mountain. Hooker’s order
was changed accordingly. As explained elsewhere, the original
order had to be reverted to, because of a flood in the river
rendering the bridge at Brown’s Ferry unsafe for the passage of
troops at the exact juncture when it was wanted to bring all the
troops together against Missionary Ridge.

The next day after Sherman’s arrival I took him, with Generals
Thomas and Smith and other officers, to the north side of the
river, and showed them the ground over which Sherman had to
march, and pointed out generally what he was expected to do. I,
as well as the authorities in Washington, was still in a great
state of anxiety for Burnside’s safety. Burnside himself, I
believe, was the only one who did not share in this anxiety.
Nothing could be done for him, however, until Sherman’s troops
were up. As soon, therefore, as the inspection was over,
Sherman started for Bridgeport to hasten matters, rowing a boat
himself, I believe, from Kelly’s Ferry. Sherman had left
Bridgeport the night of the 14th, reached Chattanooga the
evening of the 15th, made the above-described inspection on the
morning of the 16th, and started back the same evening to hurry
up his command, fully appreciating the importance of time.

His march was conducted with as much expedition as the roads and
season would admit of. By the 20th he was himself at Brown’s
Ferry with the head of column, but many of his troops were far
behind, and one division (Ewing’s) was at Trenton, sent that way
to create the impression that Lookout was to be taken from the
south. Sherman received his orders at the ferry, and was asked
if he could not be ready for the assault the following
morning. News had been received that the battle had been
commenced at Knoxville. Burnside had been cut off from
telegraphic communications. The President, the Secretary of
War, and General Halleck, were in an agony of suspense. My
suspense was also great, but more endurable, because I was where
I could soon do something to relieve the situation. It was
impossible to get Sherman’s troops up for the next day. I then
asked him if they could not be got up to make the assault on the
morning of the 22d, and ordered Thomas to move on that date. But
the elements were against us. It rained all the 20th and 21st.
The river rose so rapidly that it was difficult to keep the
pontoons in place.

General Orlando B. Willcox, a division commander under Burnside,
was at this time occupying a position farther up the valley than
Knoxville–about Maynardville–and was still in telegraphic
communication with the North. A dispatch was received from him
saying that he was threatened from the east. The following was
sent in reply:

“If you can communicate with General Burnside, say to him that
our attack on Bragg will commence in the morning. If
successful, such a move will be made as I think will relieve
East Tennessee, if he can hold out. Longstreet passing through
our lines to Kentucky need not cause alarm. He would find the
country so bare that he would lose his transportation and
artillery before reaching Kentucky, and would meet such a force
before he got through, that he could not return.”

Meantime, Sherman continued his crossing without intermission as
fast as his troops could be got up. The crossing had to be
effected in full view of the enemy on the top of Lookout
Mountain. Once over, however, the troops soon disappeared
behind the detached hill on the north side, and would not come
to view again, either to watchmen on Lookout Mountain or
Missionary Ridge, until they emerged between the hills to strike
the bank of the river. But when Sherman’s advance reached a
point opposite the town of Chattanooga, Howard, who, it will be
remembered, had been concealed behind the hills on the north
side, took up his line of march to join the troops on the south
side. His crossing was in full view both from Missionary Ridge
and the top of Lookout, and the enemy of course supposed these
troops to be Sherman’s. This enabled Sherman to get to his
assigned position without discovery.

CHAPTER XLIII.

PREPARATIONS FOR BATTLE–THOMAS CARRIES THE FIRST LINE OF THE
ENEMY–SHERMAN CARRIES MISSIONARY RIDGE–BATTLE OF LOOKOUT
MOUNTAIN–GENERAL HOOKER’S FIGHT.

On the 20th, when so much was occurring to discourage–rains
falling so heavily as to delay the passage of troops over the
river at Brown’s Ferry and threatening the entire breaking of
the bridge; news coming of a battle raging at Knoxville; of
Willcox being threatened by a force from the east–a letter was
received from Bragg which contained these words: “As there may
still be some non-combatants in Chattanooga, I deem it proper to
notify you that prudence would dictate their early withdrawal.”
Of course, I understood that this was a device intended to
deceive; but I did not know what the intended deception was. On
the 22d, however, a deserter came in who informed me that Bragg
was leaving our front, and on that day Buckner’s division was
sent to reinforce Longstreet at Knoxville, and another division
started to follow but was recalled. The object of Bragg’s
letter, no doubt, was in some way to detain me until Knoxville
could be captured, and his troops there be returned to
Chattanooga.

During the night of the 21st the rest of the pontoon boats,
completed, one hundred and sixteen in all, were carried up to
and placed in North Chickamauga. The material for the roadway
over these was deposited out of view of the enemy within a few
hundred yards of the bank of the Tennessee, where the north end
of the bridge was to rest.

Hearing nothing from Burnside, and hearing much of the distress
in Washington on his account, I could no longer defer operations
for his relief. I determined, therefore, to do on the 23d, with
the Army of the Cumberland, what had been intended to be done on
the 24th.

The position occupied by the Army of the Cumberland had been
made very strong for defence during the months it had been
besieged. The line was about a mile from the town, and extended
from Citico Creek, a small stream running near the base of
Missionary Ridge and emptying into the Tennessee about two miles
below the mouth of the South Chickamauga, on the left, to
Chattanooga Creek on the right. All commanding points on the
line were well fortified and well equipped with artillery. The
important elevations within the line had all been carefully
fortified and supplied with a proper armament. Among the
elevations so fortified was one to the east of the town, named
Fort Wood. It owed its importance chiefly to the fact that it
lay between the town and Missionary Ridge, where most of the
strength of the enemy was. Fort Wood had in it twenty-two
pieces of artillery, most of which would reach the nearer points
of the enemy’s line. On the morning of the 23d Thomas, according
to instructions, moved Granger’s corps of two divisions, Sheridan
and T. J. Wood commanding, to the foot of Fort Wood, and formed
them into line as if going on parade, Sheridan on the right,
Wood to the left, extending to or near Citico Creek. Palmer,
commanding the 14th corps, held that part of our line facing
south and southwest.. He supported Sheridan with one division
(Baird’s), while his other division under Johnson remained in
the trenches, under arms, ready to be moved to any point.
Howard’s corps was moved in rear of the centre. The picket
lines were within a few hundred yards of each other. At two
o’clock in the afternoon all were ready to advance. By this
time the clouds had lifted so that the enemy could see from his
elevated position all that was going on. The signal for advance
was given by a booming of cannon from Fort Wood and other points
on the line. The rebel pickets were soon driven back upon the
main guards, which occupied minor and detached heights between
the main ridge and our lines. These too were carried before
halting, and before the enemy had time to reinforce their
advance guards. But it was not without loss on both sides. This
movement secured to us a line fully a mile in advance of the one
we occupied in the morning, and the one which the enemy had
occupied up to this time. The fortifications were rapidly
turned to face the other way. During the following night they
were made strong. We lost in this preliminary action about
eleven hundred killed and wounded, while the enemy probably lost
quite as heavily, including the prisoners that were captured.
With the exception of the firing of artillery, kept up from
Missionary Ridge and Fort Wood until night closed in, this ended
the fighting for the first day.

The advantage was greatly on our side now, and if I could only
have been assured that Burnside could hold out ten days longer I
should have rested more easily. But we were doing the best we
could for him and the cause.

By the night of the 23d Sherman’s command was in a position to
move, though one division (Osterhaus’s) had not yet crossed the
river at Brown’s Ferry. The continuous rise in the Tennessee
had rendered it impossible to keep the bridge at that point in
condition for troops to cross; but I was determined to move that
night even without this division. Orders were sent to Osterhaus
accordingly to report to Hooker, if he could not cross by eight
o’clock on the morning of the 24th. Because of the break in the
bridge, Hooker’s orders were again changed, but this time only
back to those first given to him.

General W. F. Smith had been assigned to duty as Chief Engineer
of the Military Division. To him were given the general
direction of moving troops by the boats from North Chickamauga,
laying the bridge after they reached their position, and
generally all the duties pertaining to his office of chief
engineer. During the night General Morgan L. Smith’s division
was marched to the point where the pontoons were, and the
brigade of Giles A. Smith was selected for the delicate duty of
manning the boats and surprising the enemy’s pickets on the
south bank of the river. During this night also General J. M.
Brannan, chief of artillery, moved forty pieces of artillery,
belonging to the Army of the Cumberland, and placed them on the
north side of the river so as to command the ground opposite, to
aid in protecting the approach to the point where the south end
of the bridge was to rest. He had to use Sherman’s artillery
horses for this purpose, Thomas having none.

At two o’clock in the morning, November 24th, Giles A. Smith
pushed out from the North Chickamauga with his one hundred and
sixteen boats, each loaded with thirty brave and well-armed
men. The boats with their precious freight dropped down quietly
with the current to avoid attracting the attention of any one who
could convey information to the enemy, until arriving near the
mouth of South Chickamauga. Here a few boats were landed, the
troops debarked, and a rush was made upon the picket guard known
to be at that point. The guard were surprised, and twenty of
their number captured. The remainder of the troops effected a
landing at the point where the bridge was to start, with equally
good results. The work of ferrying over Sherman’s command from
the north side of the Tennessee was at once commenced, using the
pontoons for the purpose. A steamer was also brought up from the
town to assist. The rest of M. L. Smith’s division came first,
then the division of John E. Smith. The troops as they landed
were put to work intrenching their position. By daylight the
two entire divisions were over, and well covered by the works
they had built.

The work of laying the bridge, on which to cross the artillery
and cavalry, was now begun. The ferrying over the infantry was
continued with the steamer and the pontoons, taking the
pontoons, however, as fast as they were wanted to put in their
place in the bridge. By a little past noon the bridge was
completed, as well as one over the South Chickamauga connecting
the troops left on that side with their comrades below, and all
the infantry and artillery were on the south bank of the
Tennessee.

Sherman at once formed his troops for assault on Missionary
Ridge. By one o’clock he started with M. L. Smith on his left,
keeping nearly the course of Chickamauga River; J. E. Smith next
to the right and a little to the rear; and Ewing still farther to
the right and also a little to the rear of J. E. Smith’s command,
in column, ready to deploy to the right if an enemy should come
from that direction. A good skirmish line preceded each of
these columns. Soon the foot of the hill was reached; the
skirmishers pushed directly up, followed closely by their
supports. By half-past three Sherman was in possession of the
height without having sustained much loss. A brigade from each
division was now brought up, and artillery was dragged to the
top of the hill by hand. The enemy did not seem to be aware of
this movement until the top of the hill was gained. There had
been a drizzling rain during the day, and the clouds were so low
that Lookout Mountain and the top of Missionary Ridge were
obscured from the view of persons in the valley. But now the
enemy opened fire upon their assailants, and made several
attempts with their skirmishers to drive them away, but without
avail. Later in the day a more determined attack was made, but
this, too, failed, and Sherman was left to fortify what he had
gained.

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