Facts about the Battle Of Chattanooga, an 1863 Civil War Battle of the American Civil War

Battle Of Chattanooga Facts
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hamilton County
Dates: November 23-25, 1863
Generals: Union: Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant | Confederate: Gen. Braxton Bragg
Soldiers Engaged: Union: 56,400 | Confederate: 46,200
Important Events:
Battle of Lookout Mountain
Battle Above the Clouds
Battle of Missionary Ridge
Cracker Line
Siege of Chattanooga
Outcome: Union Victory
Casualties: Union: 5,800 | Confederate: 6,700

Battle Of Chattanooga Summary: The Battle Of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was an important Union victory in the The Civil War. The city was a vital rail hub that, once taken, became the gateway for later campaigns in the Deep South, including the capture of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea. A Confederate soldier called the Battle of Chattanooga “the death knell of the Confederacy.”

Following the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, when Major General William S. Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland routed back into Chattanooga, General Braxton Bragg positioned his Confederate Army of Tennessee on the heights above the city: Lookout Mountain to the south, Missionary Ridge to the east, and—interdicting Union supply lines—on Raccoon Mountain to the west. Bragg did not have adequate troop strength, nor did he efficiently position the men he did have, to entirely cut the Army of the Cumberland off from resupply, but the siege was effective enough to starve to death hundreds of artillery horses in Chattanooga and to reduce the soldiers there to half rations.

Morale among Bragg’s soldiers had been diminished by his failure to follow up on their stunning victory on Chickamauga Creek; it was similar to the Kentucky campaign of the previous autumn, when his men won a tactical victory at Perryville only to have Bragg order them to withdraw back into Tennessee. The thorny general’s abrasiveness and his actions after Chickamauga, or lack thereof, had also alienated many of his subordinates. Several of his key officers, buttressed by Lieutenant General James Longstreet, whose corps was on loan to Bragg from the Army of Northern Virginia, petitioned Confederate president Jefferson Davis to relieve Bragg of command.

In response, Davis visited the army’s headquarters in October but rather than relieving his old friend Bragg, Davis sided with him and relieved or reassigned several subordinate commanders. He also successfully urged Bragg to send Longstreet’s corps to capture Knoxville. All in all, the president’s visit served only to further reduce the morale and troop strength in the Army of Tennessee.

On October 18, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was given overall command of the Union armies in the west—the armies of the Tennessee, the Ohio, and the Cumberland. He accepted the opportunity offered by the War Department to relieve Rosecrans of command of the Army of the Cumberland and replace him with George H. Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” who had gathered an ad hoc force that withstood repeated assaults after the rest of the army had fled at Chickamauga, thereby saving the army. Grant left for Chattanooga himself. Though still recovering from a fall with his horse, he traveled by rail as far as he could, then made the rough, 60-mile trip through the mountains to arrive in Chattanooga on the rain-soaked evening of October 23.

Recognizing that resupply was the first order of the day—the men were down to just a few days’ rations—he accepted a plan devised by Chief Engineer of the Army of the Cumberland, William F. “Baldy” Smith, to open the rail line. A column of Thomas’ men advanced to the west along the railroad while a corps under Maj. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker—sent from the Army of the Potomac—advanced eastward. Five days after Grant reached Chattanooga, the “cracker line” was open to bring food, new uniforms and a combined total of nearly 40,000 reinforcements from Hooker’s corps and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s XV Corps from the Army of the Tennessee. Before those reinforcements arrived, there had been 45,000 Federals in Chattanooga; Bragg had 70,000 on the high ground above them.

Bragg then reduced that 70,000 by dispatching Longstreet and his men to capture Knoxville, as Davis wished. It was a fourth of his strength. Grant learned of the move on November 5. He wanted to attack immediately, but Thomas pointed out that he had no horses to pull artillery into position, and Grant relented. Resisting suggestions from the War Department that he send Sherman to reinforce the troops at Knoxville, he began planning with Thomas to break out of Chattanooga instead, which would open the road to Atlanta, sever Longstreet’s line of supply and communication, and force him to fall back into Georgia.

Sherman arrived at Chattanooga in mid-November. Grant planned to fight his way out of the siege by having him attack the northern flank along Missionary Ridge while Joe Hooker captured Lookout Mountain, the southern flank. Thomas would distract Bragg and prevent him from reinforcing his flanks by feigning an attack on the center of the Confederate line. They would then roll up the Confederate line from north to south.

Sherman had problems from the outset, mainly due to heavy rain and the road conditions it created. He had to delay his attack on Tunnel Hill, at the northern end of Missionary Ridge, by three days, not reaching his jump-off position until late on November 23.

While Sherman was trudging toward Tunnel Hill, Grant ordered Thomas to extend his lines toward Missionary Ridge to see what Bragg would do. Thomas made a full-scale assault with all 14,000 of his troops, driving some 600 Confederate skirmishers from their rifle pits on Orchard Knob, a rocky mound about a mile from the base of Missionary Ridge. There, they entrenched and waited. Orchard Knob became headquarters for Grant and Thomas for the remainder of the battle. The next day, Sherman began his assault, only to find he was on a detached spur of Missionary Ridge, with a deep ravine between him and his objective.

To the south, under cover of a heavy fog that would remain through most of the day, Hooker’s troops advanced up the slopes of Lookout Mountain unopposed until they reached Confederate emplacements around 10 a.m. Confederate major general Carter Stevenson only had about 1,200 men defending the mountain, no match for Hooker’s 12,000. Confederate artillery was not positioned well for defense against Hooker’s line of attack. Some intense fighting took place at the Cravens House, but Stevenson’s men slowly withdrew toward the crest. Reinforced that afternoon, they held till after nightfall before retreating as they had been ordered to do. Hooker waited until the next morning to capture Point Lookout, the very top of Lookout Mountain.

Because much of the battle was obscured from Union troops below by the heavy fog, it became known as the “Battle Above the Clouds” after the war. It had been an easier victory than anticipated, so much so that Hooker been overly cautious in his advance, adding to the delay and confusion of the overall battle.

Bragg reinforced his right during the night, and on November 25, Sherman’s men faced those of Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, “Stonewall Jackson of the West.” Sherman ended up on the defensive, rather than the offensive, and would be stalled at Tunnel Hill for the entirety of the battle. Six hours of fighting and 2,000 Union casualties had failed to dislodge the Rebels by afternoon.

To the south, Hooker was stymied because the retreating Confederates had burned a bridge over Chattanooga Creek. Grant, frustrated by the delays and overcomplicated implementation of a simple plan, ordered Thomas to attack the center of the Confederate line on Missionary Ridge, hoping to at last distract Bragg from Tunnel Hill so Sherman would be able to turn the Confederate line.

The 60 regiments of Thomas’ command, nearly 24,000 men, surged forward, artillery shells from 112 guns atop the ridge bursting among them. Instead of merely distracting Bragg—who had already shifted reinforcements to Tunnel Hill because the fighting was so intense—the Union soldiers took the rifle pits at the foot of the ridge and out of necessity continued advancing as the Confederate line gave way. Thorough a second line of pits and then over the crest of the ridge they swarmed. First to break through was the 24th Wisconsin Regiment; Captain Arthur MacArthur—father of the future general of World War II and the Korean War—planted the Stars and Stripes atop the ridge. Among the Confederates, a rout began that rivaled the Union skedaddle at Chickamauga, abandoning a third of their army’s artillery and 7,000 muskets.

Grant and Thomas watched in disbelief as the Union line advanced beyond their orders. Also watching in disbelief from his headquarters at the top of Missionary Ridge, Bragg was stunned as his line broke and his troops were routed. He had to make a hurried retreat of his own to Dalton, Georgia, where he was able to eventually reorganize his demoralized troops. Cleburne was left to fight a rear-guard retreat that prevented the complete destruction of the Army of Tennessee.

Grant pursued for two days before halting to send troops to aid Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, besieged by Longstreet at Knoxville. Before the reinforcements arrived, however, the Confederate corps had battered itself against Knoxville’s defenses—which included an early use of barbed wire in warfare—and had withdrawn northward, back to Virginia. Burnside exhibited a competence of command at Knoxville that had eluded him at Antietam and Fredericksburg.

Following the Battle of Chattanooga, Bragg resigned on November 29 and Davis immediately accepted, replacing him with General Joseph E. Johnston, who would face Sherman in the Atlanta Campaign. During that campaign, Chattanooga became a vital supply hub for Sherman, who was given command of Union troops in the Western Theater when Grant was placed in command of all Union armies in the spring of 1864.