Civil War Battles
State War Records
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Gen. Braxton Bragg had a strong natural position on Missionary Ridge. His right, or "strategic," flank was held by 14 brigades in Brig. Gen. William Hardee's corps. Brig. gen. john Breckinridge had 9 brigades with which to cover a 2.5 mile front opposite Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's center. Three parallel lines of entrenchments had been laid out and partially completed. One line was along the base of the ridge; another had been started about half-way up the slope; and a third was along the crest.
Grant established his headquarters at Orchard Knob November 24, and about midnight sent word to Maj. gen. William T. Sherman to resume his attack at dawn. Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker was ordered to continue his advance to Rossville Gap.
Ewing's division(of Sherman's force) attacked south; the brigade of Corse, reinforced by a regiment of Lightburn, spearheaded the advance, while the brigades of Cockerill, Alexander, and Lightburn were initially to hold the hill taken the day before. Morgan Smith's division advanced along the eastern slope, maintaining contact with Corse on his right. Along the western slope, the brigade of Loomis was to advance with 2 brigades from John Smith's division in support.
Corse moved out under heavy fire and took some high ground about 80 yards from the Confederate's main position. From this base, he launched repeated assaults for over an hour without success. The forces on his left and right gained ground, thereby relieving some pressure, but were not able to achieve any permanent lodgment. Union batteries (Callender, Wood, and Dillon) did what they could to support the infantry, but the terrain and the close fighting were such that they could not render effective assistance. Corse was severely wounded about 10:00 A.M. The fighting on this flank continued with varying results until about 3:00 P.M.
Meanwhile, Hooker's advance had been delayed 4 or 5 hours in rebuilding the bridge the Confederates had destroyed over the Chattanooga and in removing other obstructions. It was late afternoon before he was in a position to threaten Bragg's left flank. Bragg, in the meantime, had reinforced his right with the divisions of Cheatham and Stevenson.
Showing outstanding generalship, Grant did not make the error of throwing troops from his center into the planned frontal attack before some decisive results had been achieved on the flanks. Sherman's situation, however, was critical, and the original plan had to be modified. At 10:00 A.M., he made Howard's 2 divisions available to reinforce Sherman's left. A new Union attack gained some ground, but was driven back by a counterattack which routed the brigades of John Smith (on the right). The brigades of Corse and Loomis then drove the Confederates back into their original positions.
Continuing to reinforce the left, Grant at 12:00 P.M. ordered Baird's division to move from the right of Indian Hill to reinforce Sherman. Baird arrived behind Sherman's position, was told he was not needed, and then moved to a position on Wood's left. He formed in line at 2:30 P.M.
Hooker, in the meantime, had started attacking the Confederate left. The rest of Wood's brigade headed for high ground on the right of the gap, and Williamson's moved up on the left. The Confederates withdrew, leaving a considerable quantity of supplies. By this time the bridge was completed and the rest of Hooker's forces reinforced the leading brigades. Hooker sent Crufts division along the ridge and Geary and Osterhaus on his left and right, respectively. The 9th and 36th Indinia Infantry spearheaded an assault that started crushing Bragg's left flank.
Grant now saw that even though Sherman's envelopment had failed he must make a final effort before dark. Between 3:00 and 4:00 P.M., the long-awaited 6 cannon shots signaled the assault. The divisions of Baird , Wood, and Sheridan , and Johnson were on line from left to right.
Grant had intended that the troops halt after taking the first line, and reorganize. Much to his consternation, Grant saw the troops capture the first line and then press on immediately for the summit. The attackers had found out that lingering in the initial position would subject them to murderous fire from the crest, and that the safest thing was to charge up the hill. This they did on their own initiative. Grant is reported to have asked Thomas and Granger who had ordered the attack. The commanders actually tried to stop this advance. Turchin's brigade was halted and Wagner's brigade was called back from an advanced position .
Bragg had made several mistakes in his defensive dispositions. He had split his forces, putting half at the bottom of the hill with secret orders to fire a volley when the enemy got to within 200 yards, and then to withdraw up the slopes . Many men apparently were not informed of this plan, and defended the first line even when others had pulled back. A Confederate engineer had taken his instructions literally when told to put the final line on the highest ground. This line was along the geographic or topographic crest instead of the "military crest" (the highest place from which you can see and fire on an approaching enemy). The attackers, therefore, found "dead space" through which they could advance under cover, and came forward in about 6 separate lines of approach. Footholds were established at various places, and enfilade fire from these penetrations destroyed the Confederate strong points that had been able to resist the frontal assault. As for which regiment reached the crest first, it would be difficult to find a regimental historian who recorded that his own unit was the second. Sheridan was the only division commander who maintained enough cohesion in his unit to pursue; he took a large number of guns and prisoners, and came very close to capturing Bragg, Breckinridge, and a number of other high-ranking officers. The final assault had lasted about an hour with 37 guns and 2,000 prisoners taken.
Hooker, meanwhile, was rolling up the left. Many Confederate units panicked, but Grant was unable to pursue effectively. The Confederates rallied on a ridge about 500 yards to the rear. Cleburne continued to hold Sherman after the firing had died out along the rest of the line. Bragg withdrew that night toward Dalton, while Hardee's corps covered the rear.
The loss of Chattanooga was a severe blow to the dying Confederate cause. A vital line of lateral communications was lost, and the stage was set for Sherman's move to split the Confederacy further by his Atlanta Campaign and march to the sea.