Reeling from defeat at Chickamauga on September 19-20, 1863, Army of the Cumberland forces under the command of William S. Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga to regroup. Braxton Bragg's men drove to the summit of Lookout Mountain and retook the peak without a fight. With this advantage on the Rebel side, Old Rosy feared losing the city.
Abraham Lincoln was keenly aware of the importance of Chattanooga (city history).
The President had said that, "...taking Chattanooga is as important as taking Richmond." Rails from the city linked major distribution centers of the Confederacy; it was a key in his plan to "divide and conquer" the Confederacy. Lincoln ordered reinforcements to the city on the Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River and gave Ulysses S. Grant command of all forces west of the Appalachians. Grant immediately relieved Rosecrans from duty and appointed General George Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga" as
commander of the 40,000 troops in Chattanooga. From Virginia, Joseph Hooker
moved 20,000 men. From Mississippi, William Tecumseh Sherman came with another 20,000.
The Rebels were having their own problems. Bragg, in spite of advice from Nathan Bedford Forrest and others, had withheld his troops from destroying the retreating Army of the Cumberland after Chickamauga. Already concerned with his actions as commander, his subordinates petitioned Richmond for relief. President Jefferson Davis visited in October, 1863 and responded to Bragg's critics by dismissing or reassigning them. Bragg, arguably the worst commander on either side in the Civil War, was left in charge.
Shortly after Davis left, Grant arrived in Chattanooga
and assumed command from General Thomas. Four days later Hooker crossed Lookout
Valley and formed a supply route known as the "Cracker Line" to relieve the siege. With the arrival of Sherman, Grant was ready to take the heights above Chattanooga. The plan was simple. Thomas would take Orchard Knob then "demonstrate" at
the center to prevent Bragg from reinforcing his flanks while Hooker came
in from the left and Sherman from the right.
The Army of the Cumberland, the men who valiantly fought for Thomas at Chickamauga, took Orchard Knob on
the 23rd of November, 1863, while the Union troops, fresh from battles in Mississippi
and Virginia, watched. Lightly defended, the Knob was easily overrun as rebels
holding positions on the hill fled on the advance of federal units. The next
day "Fighting Joe" Hooker took Lookout Mountain on
the left of the Confederate line. Defended by 1200 rebels who withdrew after
inflicting moderate losses on Hooker's men as they advanced along the side of
the mountain, this minor skirmish would be forever romanticized as "The Battle
above the Clouds."
On November 25, Sherman attacked the eastern end of Bragg's line. The Union commander came up against Confederate General Patrick Cleburne, who fought with particular stubbornness considering he was outnumbered four or five to one. Sherman was held on the right by a force of inferior numbers, and Hooker faired no better on the left--after descending the mountain he had taken the day before, Hooker found that retreating grays had destroyed the only bridge over Chickamauga Creek, preventing his advance.
In the center of the rebel line sat Thomas. Over the past 3 weeks his men had been subject to taunts from Hooker's and Sherman's soldiers over the defeat at Chickamauga two months earlier. At 3:30pm, after word reached headquaters of Sherman's inability to reach his objective, Grant ordered Thomas to advance on the first line of defense on Missionary Ridge. The rebel line resisted at first then gave in to the advancing Federals.
Fully aware that the men of Sherman's and Hooker's armies
were watching the men began to move up Missionary Ridge. Shouting "Chickamauga, Chickamauga" the
men advanced on the entrenched rebels. The artillery line had been misplaced
at the top of the ridge instead of the crest. The cannon fire was less effective
and the Union advance quickly overran the Confederate forces.
Bragg ordered a retreat to Dalton and gave General Cleburne the grim task of guarding his rear. Safely back in Dalton, he wired Davis of the defeat and asked to be relieved of duty, admitting it had been wrong to leave him in command when Davis visited in October.
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