Memoirs of Henry Villard/Volume 2/37
The Battle above the Clouds.—1863
THE preparations of the engineer-in-chief for the coming reckoning with Bragg were of two kinds. One was the completion of the defensive works at Chattanooga. Heavy details of men were made and the work pushed day and night, and, on the day fixed for the attack on the enemy, the fortifications were pronounced in a sufficiently advanced condition to defy any assault. The other was the collection of enough material for two bridges. One was to be thrown over the Tennessee, which was 1300 feet wide at the selected point, and another across the Chickamauga, at its mouth, of a width of 180 feet. The spare pontoons scattered between Chattanooga and Bridgeport were gathered together by strenuous efforts, and the two sawmills of the town put in operation to furnish the rest of the material wanted. It was decided, in order to screen the movement from the observation of the enemy, to haul the pontoons by land to a point opposite the mouth of the North Chickamauga, some six miles north of Chattanooga, and to float and load them there with the first landing force and row them to the landing-point. On November 20, the boats were in the river, provided with oars and crews. Then a formidable obstacle to the laying of the pontoon-bridges arose. The Tennessee in its actual swollen stage brought down great quantities of heavy drift-wood, which broke both the pontoon-bridges at Chattanooga and Brown's Ferry. This naturally gave rise to the fear that it would not be possible to throw the two bridges for Sherman, or to maintain them, if thrown, long enough for the passage of the troops.
General Sherman strove hard to have the whole of the Fifteenth Corps opposite the mouth of the Chickamauga in time to strike on November 20, but found it beyond his power. General Ewing's division was the first to cross at Bridgeport, but made the detour to Trenton. General John E. Smith's followed next and reached its destination by the above date. But Generals Morgan L. Smith's and Osterhaus's were then still struggling with the badly cut-up and encumbered road between Shellmound and Brown's Ferry. A serious oversight had been committed in allowing the heavy division trains to follow each division, instead of moving the infantry and artillery ahead of them all. General Grant was greatly surprised when he learned of the blunder, but generously assumed the responsibility for it, though Sherman deserved the direct blame. Rain, too, again set in and impeded the marching. General Sherman reached General Hooker's headquarters on the afternoon of the 20th, and there found General Grant's order to him to make the attack the next day; but he was unwillingly obliged to ask for a postponement, which was reluctantly granted. The second division (Gen. M. L. Smith's) succeeded in crossing at Brown's Ferry only on the 21st. Ewing's had marched down Lookout Valley from Trenton and was to cross next, but, owing to the repeated breaking of the bridge by the drift-wood, did not get over till the 23d. So much damage was caused to the bridge after this that it would apparently take several more days to get Osterhaus's division on the other side. Hence, General Sherman felt it his duty to offer to undertake the movement against Missionary Ridge with the three divisions already over, and to let the other operate under the orders of General Hooker, provided a substitute was placed at his disposal. General Grant sanctioned this proposition, and Osterhaus acted under Hooker during the whole of the subsequent operations. On the afternoon of the 23d, Sherman's troops, reinforced by Jefferson C. Davis's division, were concentrated behind the hills opposite the mouth of the Chickamauga, ready for action. It should be mentioned here that the three divisions of the Fifteenth Corps were under the direct orders of Major-General Blair through the ensuing crisis. He had been appointed by General Sherman to this command on October 25, and had exercised it since, although Major-General Logan had been transferred by order of the President on October 28 from the command of the Seventeenth to that of the Fifteenth Corps. The reason was that General Blair intended to take his seat in Congress at the coming session, but continued at his post in order to allow General Logan to take a furlough.
How much Sherman took the delay to heart, and how clearly he appreciated the demands of the situation, is well shown by the following passages from a despatch of his to General Grant on November 23, from opposite the mouth of the Chickamauga: “I need not express how I felt, that my troops should cause delay. . . . As you ask for positive information, I answer: No cause on earth will induce me to ask for longer delay, and to-night at midnight we move. . . . Every military reason now sanctions a general attack. Longstreet is absent, and we expect no more reinforcements; therefore we should not delay another hour, and should put all our strength in the attack.”
According to the plan of operation, all the available force of the Army of the Cumberland, with the exception of the number needed to man the fortifications on the right and centre, were to be concentrated in line on the left, so as to be within reach of connection with Sherman after he had crossed the river. One division should constitute a mobile reserve, ready to move to the support of any part of the line. In order to make up for the detachment of J. C. Davis's division, 7000 strong, placed under Sherman's orders, General Howard was ordered to report to Thomas, and marched on November 22, by the two pontoon-bridges at Brown's Ferry and Chattanooga, into the latter place, and took position behind the Army of the Cumberland. This move was made as ostentatiously as possible, in order to lead Bragg to believe that Sherman's men were crossing at the town, and render him doubtful as to the real point of attack. This ruse proved effective. Our signal officers, who had by long observation managed to understand the rebel signals, read one from the station on the summit of Lookout Mountain to Bragg that a large force, apparently a whole corps, had passed over the bridge into the town. Hooker's command consisted, up to November 20, of the Eleventh Corps, Geary's division of the Twelfth Corps, and the brigades of General Whitaker and Colonel Grose of the first division of the Fourth Corps, which had been sent to reinforce Hooker on his march to Lookout Valley and had been stationed at Shellmound and Whiteside. The two brigades had set out from Chattanooga under General Palmer, but were now commanded by Brigadier-General Charles Cruft.
The detachment of the Eleventh Corps chagrined and irritated Hooker greatly. As I heard at the time from general officers, he openly charged that it was a deliberate scheme to deprive him of all active share in the coming battle and to throw its management entirely into the hands of General Sherman. He asked leave of General Thomas to accompany the Eleventh Corps, on the ground that it was his duty to follow the part of his command going into battle, and received permission to do so. But, before following Howard, he received orders on November 23 to remain in the valley and to make a demonstration as early as possible the next morning against Lookout Mountain. His anger at this was appeased before the close of the same day by the assignment of Osterhaus's division to his command. The three divisions thus placed under his orders had never been united under one command before, and their officers and men were total strangers to each other. General Hooker himself knew only those of Geary's. His total force was a little under 10,000 effectives. To cover the advance of Hooker, the guns in the works on the Brown's Ferry bluffs and a battery of eight Parrott 20-pounders established on Moccasin Point, directly opposite Lookout Point, were ready to open a sweeping cross-fire.
Let us now glance at the situation on the Confederate side. The removal of Lieutenant-Generals Polk and Hill and Major-General Hindman (the latter's restoration to command did not take place until after the culmination of events before Chattanooga) and the detachment of General Buckner led to so many changes in the commanders and so many reformations of commands as to constitute almost an entire reorganization of Bragg's army. There had been numerous changes among the brigadiers, and some consolidations of brigades and transfers of regiments from one to another. The cavalry corps under Major-General Joseph Wheeler, with the four divisions of Wharton, Martin, Armstrong, and Kelly, was mostly off on detached duty, and no part of it became engaged in the coming conflict. After Longstreet's departure with his two Virginia divisions, General Walker's division was attached to the corps of Lieutenant-General Hardee, who assumed command of the whole left, while that of the right was exercised by Major-General Breckinridge. The division of Stevenson was also withdrawn from the latter and transferred to the former. Up to our resumption of the offensive, the rebel lines included the crest of Lookout Mountain, and extended from its western slope around the northern to the eastern, and thence over the valley of Chattanooga Creek to and along Missionary Ridge, to within three-quarters of a mile of Tunnel Hill. The entire front was connected and protected along Missionary Ridge by rifle-pits and breastworks, with emplacements for batteries at suitable points, while on the plain of the Chattanooga Valley, towards Lookout Mountain, redoubts and redans formed part of the defensive works. Stevenson's division lay on the top along the crest of the mountain; next came, down its western slope, Walker's, Stewart's, Bushrod Johnson's, Cleburne's, Bate's; and last Anderson's at the extreme right. The strength of the three rebel infantry corps, including artillery, was, on October 31, according to the official report of the number present in effectives: Longstreet's, 14,674; Cheatham's, 15,181; Breckinridge's, 16,309; Artillery Reserve, 332 — making an aggregate of 46,496. Deducting the 16,000 Longstreet took away with him, the force in our front was reduced to 30,000 men.
Longstreet's expedition, however justifiable it seemed in its inception, proved a great mistake in the light of after events. It is almost beyond belief, but yet a fact, that a further blunder in the same direction was deliberately committed by Bragg on the very eve of our aggressive movements. On November 22, he issued orders to Major-General Cleburne to start at once with his own and Bushrod Johnson's divisions in the wake of Longstreet for East Tennessee. The order was promptly obeyed, and two of Johnson's three brigades embarked the same day by train for Loudon. General Cleburne was superintending the shipment of the other brigade of Johnson and of his own division, the next morning, at Chickamauga Station, some two miles west of Missionary Ridge, when he received an other order from General Bragg, countermanding the previous one, and directing him to stop on the way such of the troops as had already left. He had succeeded in halting Johnson's two brigades at Charleston Station, when a third order reached him to return as quickly as possible and to march the other brigade and his division back to the front at once. As Johnson was preparing to turn back, he received direct instructions from the army headquarters to proceed, which he did, and joined Longstreet. This further diminished the enemy before us by between 2000 and 3000 men. Cleburne was made to camp on the night of the 23d on the eastern base of Missionary Ridge, as a reserve to the army. Cheatham and Walker were absent on leave, and their divisions were respectively commanded by Brigadier-Generals Jackson and Gist; but General Cheatham returned to duty at night on the 24th.
Even before the withdrawal of Longstreet, the Confederate line was altogether too extended for the available force. Its length was fully six miles, and the difficulty of maintaining it was augmented by its windings and ups and downs on the left. Its further attenuation by the detachment of Cleburne's and Johnson's divisions had much increased its weakness. Cleburne's troops were eventually employed in protecting an extension of it to the north. Stewart and Bate were ordered to fill the gap caused by Cleburne's and Johnson's withdrawal, by extending their lines towards each other and drawing up their reserves. But this left them still weak.
The orders to the Army of the Cumberland to get ready for the offensive were already issued on November 18, but, owing to the detention of Sherman, it remained inactive till he was within striking distance. As its main object was to be to second his efforts against the rebel right, the first requirement was to insure communication with him after he had reached the left bank. To this end, Citico Creek, a deep, narrow stream following a crooked course from Missionary Ridge to its confluence with the Tennessee, about half a mile east of the town limits, was bridged during the night of the 22d. Until then the first and third divisions of Granger's Fourth Corps had formed the left, extending from the Tennessee River, within the lines of our advanced rifle-pits, to the Rossville road. The second and third divisions of the Fourteenth Corps adjoined them on the right, their line extending around the fortifications to Chattanooga Creek. The latter corps was now under Major-General John M. Palmer, who was promoted to that command when General Thomas vacated it, not for his military merit, but through the pulling of political strings, against the wish of General Grant and by the partiality of the President, who was an old political crony of the favored general. The two corps received orders at 11 A.M. the next day to move into position for the work expected of them. The infantry had been in good enough condition for weeks for another trial of strength with their old adversaries, but the artillery could hardly have stirred had not teams for the guns been borrowed from Sherman and ferried over the river the day before — a telling exemplification of the effect of the siege on the Army of the Cumberland. The two corps advanced a short distance and then formed with the Fourth Corps in the front line, with Wood's division on the left, extending to near Citico Creek, and Sheridan's on the right. Baird's division of the Fourteenth, refused en échelon, supported Granger's right. Johnson's division was held in readiness under arms in the intrenchments as a mobile column to reinforce any weak point. The Eleventh Corps was massed behind Granger's centre. General Hooker stood still until the next day. Although the accession of Osterhaus to his command had been announced to him, it did not actually take place till then.
General Willich, my host, and I had been in constant expectation ever since the 18th of the order to break camp, and had become very weary of waiting, but this mood gave way to excited rejoicing when the command to move was at last received shortly after 11 A.M. on November 24. In less than half an hour the brigade was in motion. It now consisted of nine regiments; the Eighth Kansas, Sixty-eighth Indiana, Twenty-fifth and Thirty-fifth Illinois, and Fifteenth Wisconsin having been added to it only a short time before, to the General's great satisfaction. Yet the nine regiments numbered not much more than 2000 effectives. Understanding that the two corps would only make a demonstration that day, and that the serious work would not come off till the morrow, I concluded to accompany General Willich, and it so happened that the main task of the day fell to him.
The corps line was completed by half-past one. Wood's division extended without our rifle-pits through the open field in front of the casemated work named Fort Wood. On its right, Sheridan's was posted along a railroad track, with his right resting on another enclosed work. The troops moved into position as deliberately and regularly as though they were forming for a parade. The day being bright, they were in full view of the enemy, whose pickets at a distance of less than a quarter of a mile could be seen to watch them leisurely, with hands in their pockets, apparently wholly unapprehensive of our hostile intent. They were soon undeceived. On our side, too, the grand spectacle was watched from the ramparts of our forts. On those of Fort Wood, Generals Grant, Thomas, Smith, Quartermaster-General Meigs, C. A. Dana, and scores of staff officers were eager observers. At twenty minutes to two, the order to advance was given by bugle signal. Our brigade on the left and Hazen's on the right formed the division front, Beatty s'was in reserve in the rear of Willich. The front brigades were preceded by double lines of skirmishers, and advanced in two lines; the first deployed, the last in double column in the centre, closed en masse. The Eighth Kansas served as our skirmishers.
Shortly before the division started, I learned that something more than a demonstration would devolve upon it. Major-General Granger had been ordered to advance in force to Orchard Knob, a hill rising boldly about 100 feet above the plain northeast of the town and a little over a mile from it and a mile from Missionary Ridge. It had served as an outpost to the enemy since the beginning of the investment. The object was to discover whether the enemy was still in strength before us. On the 20th, General Grant had received a notification under flag of truce from General Bragg, as follows: “As there may still be some non-combatants in Chattanooga, I deem it proper to notify you that prudence would dictate their early withdrawal.” This was considered a mere piece of bluff, and no attention was paid to it. But, on the night of the 22d, a rebel private deserted to our lines and reported that Bragg was falling back. This led to the theory at the general headquarters that the quoted letter might be a ruse to mask his real intention of retreating. The attack upon Orchard Knob was accordingly to test the presence or absence of the enemy.
First some open fields, swampy and difficult to cross in places, and next a wide stretch of heavy timber, intervened between our starting-point and the Knob. Timber covered the latter and a low rocky ridge separated from it by a hollow, and running for nearly a thousand yards to the southeast. Along the crest of this ridge the rebels had protected themselves with rifle-pits and breastworks of logs and stone. Rifle-pits extended also around the east and north base of the Knob, and from it for a mile to Citico Creek and beyond. These defences were concealed and protected by the timber. As we got into motion, our guns in Fort Wood and the next adjacent work, Fort Thomas, opened on the Knob, and their roar inspired us all the way. The rebels made no reply, as they had no artillery in that position. The first shots from small arms were heard within a few minutes. Our skirmishers had come upon the rebel pickets about half-way to the Knob. With their rapid advance, a rattling fire developed, growing noisier as we neared our objective-point; but the brigade line never fired a shot. We had orders to take the Knob proper; Hazen the pits and breastworks on the ridge. Within twenty minutes, we were at and over the pits at the base, and, in a minute more, our men swarmed up the hill and cleared it of the enemy. Our loss was only four killed and ten wounded. Hazen had much harder work. His men re ceived a destructive fire from the sheltered enemy, but, without faltering or firing, rushed up to the breastworks, and, leaping over them, captured nearly all the defenders, consisting of nearly 150 officers and men of the Twenty-eighth Alabama, of Manigault's brigade, with the regimental flag. Our loss was severe — two officers killed and fourteen wounded, twenty-six men killed and 127 wounded — and fell almost entirely upon the Forty-first and Ninety-third Ohio as leading regiments. In the course of the afternoon, the rifle-pits to the left of the Knob were cleared by two regiments of Beatty's brigade, with small loss. Simultaneously, the two divisions of the Eleventh Corps also advanced on Beatty's left, and their skirmishers became briskly engaged as they moved forward. The rebels were forced back beyond the Creek, and the new line designated was occupied and intrenched. Schurz and Steinwehr lost four killed and thirty-two wounded.
Thus, what was intended to be only a reconnoissance in force, had accomplished a decided success in giving us possession of a very important position. The division and corps commanders came up to it as soon as it was carried, and, on recognizing its importance, asked General Thomas for authority to hold it, which, being given, our men were at once set to work intrenching it. The enemy's batteries on Missionary Ridge opened a hot fire of shot and shell upon us and kept it up till nearly dark, but we suffered only one slight casualty. The two brigades labored all night, in relief parties, and by morning a line of rifle-pits and barricades was completed along the whole front of the division. Our brigade also constructed an épaulement on the top of the hill for a six-gun battery. As a rebel attack might be made at any moment, and as it was generally assumed that we would resume the offensive in the morning, I remained at the front for the night. I slept with Willich in a hut quickly made for us by Fritz and the orderlies, with a rubber blanket between me and the ground. Contrary to expectation, we remained quietly in our new position during the whole of the next day and night. A drizzling rain had set in during the night and made our bivouac rather uncomfortable.
General Sherman had kept his promise to begin the crossing of the river during the night of the 23d. General Smith's brigade of his second division marched up the bank under cover of the hills to where the one hundred and sixteen boats lay. They were filled with thirty men each, and at midnight the movement down the river began. On nearing the mouth of the Chickamauga, a small force was landed first, to capture the rebel pickets, which was smartly done, an officer and twenty men being taken and only one escaping. The rest of the brigade was next put ashore above and below the mouth. Then the pontoons, a ferryboat, and another steamboat commenced the transfer of the troops from the opposite bank, and by daylight fully 8000 men and one battery had been brought over and were well intrenched. The work of laying the two pontoon-bridges over the Tennessee and Chickamauga was commenced, and pushed so energetically that both were completed within less than seven hours, notwithstanding the powerful current from the high stage of water. Long's brigade of cavalry, which was to make a dash on the enemy's communications, had passed over the bridge by three o'clock. It succeeded in reaching and burning Tyner's Station, on the Chattanooga and Cleveland railroad, destroying the track and capturing one hundred wagons and two hundred prisoners. Another noteworthy exploit was the seizure, immediately after effecting a landing, of a number of torpedo rafts in the Chickamauga, which the rebels were about to send down the Tennessee for the destruction of our bridges.
General Sherman and staff passed over the bridge directly after the last pontoon was put in, and were gratified to be met on the left bank by General Howard, who had come up along it unopposed, with Buschbeck's brigade of Steinwehr's division, in order to open communication be tween his corps (the extreme left of Thomas) and the Fifteenth Corps. General Howard rode back to his command, but, at the request of General Sherman, left the brigade with him, and it shared the experiences of the Fifteenth Corps.
By noon, Blair's three divisions, with all their artillery and everything else, were on the left bank, and Davis's division was waiting at the east end of the bridge to follow the cavalry. At one o'clock, the march from the river towards Missionary Ridge commenced en échelon, with M. L. Smith's division in the lead on the left, J. E. Smith's as the centre, and Ewing's on the right, with the front of each preceded by swarms of skirmishers. The northern end of the Ridge extends from the railroad tunnel under it for about a mile to the Chickamauga nearly north and south, and forms with that stream and the Tennessee three sides of a square, as it were. The ground enclosed within them is mostly level and consisted at the time of a succession of cleared fields through which the troops made the intervening distance of one and a half miles without much difficulty, although a drizzling rain was coming down. No resistance was met, and, at half-past three, the heights were attained by our skirmishers and soon after occupied in force. Here the Commanding General found that he had been in error in assuming that Missionary Ridge was a continuous, unbroken range. He discovered that his troops had gained only a fore-ridge, so to speak, about a third of a mile to the northwest of and separated from the main ridge by a little valley, and we were still half a mile north of the “Tunnel Hill,” our real aim.
Three brigades, one from each division, were pushed up the fore-ridge. Brigadier-General Lightburn, commanding the one to the left, perceiving that the main ridge had not been reached, of his own accord ordered one of his regiments to occupy the point on it directly in front of him, which it did successfully. Half an hour later, the enemy moved over the valley against our left flank. There was then sharp firing of small arms and artillery for a time, and General Lightburn's advanced troops had to be reinforced by three other regiments. Towards dark, the rebels withdrew, leaving us in our positions, which General Sherman then considered so important that he ordered them fortified during the night. Our casualties were small, but included Brigadier-General Giles A. Smith, a very efficient brigade commander, who received a severe wound. The corps bivouacked in several lines for the night. M. L. Smith's division formed the left; G. A. Smith's brigade resting on the Chickamauga, and Lightburn's on the fore-hill. Next came Alexander's brigade of J. E. Smith's division and Cockerill's brigade of Ewing's division as the centre, and the other brigades of the latter's division and Buschbeck's and Steinwehr's on the right. The two other brigades of J. E. Smith's lay in reserve behind the centre. One of J. C. Davis's brigades was moved up to the reserve, another remained half-way between the front and the bridge, and a third at the latter. The enemy did not molest any part of Sherman's lines during the night. Luckily, it stopped raining and grew clear and bracing before morning. At midnight, orders arrived from General Grant to make an attack at “dawn of day,” with notice that General Thomas would also take the offensive early in the day.
Bragg learned of our passage of the river during the morning, and directed Cleburne, then en route for East Tennessee, to send one of his brigades to protect the railroad bridge over the Chickamauga. When he was informed of our advance upon Missionary Ridge, he at once ordered Cleburne to occupy it, with his remaining three brigades, from Tunnel Hill to its northern extremity. It was in executing this movement that Cleburne's leading brigade of Texas regiments came in collision with Sherman's men. Had our crossing been delayed twenty-four hours, or had Cleburne been started a day earlier, Sherman would doubt less have rushed Tunnel Hill unopposed and Bragg found himself obliged to fight with 6000 less of his best troops. I have searched the Official Records in vain for Bragg's reasons for detaching a second column for East Tennessee, but have not been able to obtain any explanation of it. The movement is likely to remain one of the insoluble mysteries of the Civil War, none the less puzzling because, two days before he issued the marching orders to Cleburne, Bragg telegraphed to Jefferson Davis that Sherman had arrived, and on the strength of this asked for reinforcements. There is good evidence, however, that the rebel Commander-in-chief was under the delusion that a movement was contemplated against his left until he was undeceived by Sherman's appearance on his right. Previous to extending it with Cleburne's command, he had already taken other measures to strengthen his threatened flank by transferring Walker's division (temporarily under General Gist), during the night of the 23d to the 24th, from its position in the Chattanooga Valley to the right, and by putting Lieutenant-General Hardee in command of all the forces on the right.
General Hooker's part in the programme of action for the 24th was to be by far the most dramatic and important. For the better comprehension of the unique performance of his force, which has found its place in history under the original but appropriate name of “Battle above the Clouds,” a description of Lookout Mountain and of the rebel positions upon it is needful. The name “Lookout Mountain” applies not only to the huge headland rising abruptly between the mouths of Chattanooga and Lookout Creeks, but to the entire range running south and southwestwardly from it for a distance of nearly fifty miles, dividing the valleys of the streams mentioned, and affording communication between them through numerous depressions or gaps, by means of mere trails or roads. The mountain in its narrower sense presents three phases, to the north, west, and east. The northern and western are very abrupt and rocky, but furrowed; the eastern is less steep and broken. At the height of 1000 feet above its base, it becomes partially truncated, the recession of the upper portion forming a plateau of cleared and arable land. A mile southward, the “Palisades” tower straight up from 75 to 150 feet, a huge, cliff-like mass of rocks, above which rises the flat peak forming the highest point. There was then a farm on the plateau; the long frame house known from its owner as the White or Cravens house stood near where the western and eastern slopes meet in a sharp angle and form the abrupt northern edge of the mountain, making a conspicuous landmark. Roads came down the valley on both sides of Lookout Creek and passed around the base of the mountain, but only paths led up to the plateau from the northwest; a zigzagging wagon road from Chattanooga Valley ran up the east side to the summit.
On the morning of the 24th, there were six brigades — Walthall's, Jackson's, and Moore's of Cheatham's division, and Pettus's, Brown's, and Cumming's of Stevenson's division distributed over Lookout Mountain for its defence. Major-General Stevenson had assumed command of both divisions when Lieutenant-General Hardee was ordered to the right. Pettus's brigade was on the summit, Brown's guarded the passes from the top to Nickajack Pass ten miles off. Jackson's and Cumming's brigades were stationed along the eastern base. Walthall's and Moore's brigades lay on the western and northern slope, below the Cravens house, on the left and right respectively, and they provided the picket line about two miles long up the east bank of Lookout Creek, in front of Hooker's line.
Hooker's first instructions, “to demonstrate only against the mountain,” were changed so as to require him to take the mountain if his demonstrations proved it practicable. He decided to deliver his main assault directly up the western slope against the rebel left. To climb not far from a thousand feet up the steep, broken, rocky mountainside against the well-sheltered enemy looked like a most formidable task of doubtful issue, but the plan to strike in one direction with all the available force brought success, owing to the scattering of the defenders over the summit and the three sides of the mountain at different heights, which made succor from any one of the rebel positions to any threatened point slow and difficult. On October 31, the present effective strength of Stevenson's division was 3102, and of Cheatham's 5467, or a total of 8569, while Hooker's infantry, after deducting train guards and other detachments, did not much exceed 7500. Hence, if it had been possible to concentrate the Confederates on the west side, the outcome would probably have been different. As it was, the assailants had opposed to them only Walthall's and Moore's brigades of the last-named division — that is, about half their number; according to official returns, only 2694 effectives. General Stevenson having been assigned to higher command, they were led by Brigadier-General J. K. Jackson as division commander.
The line into which our troops moved for the operations of the day extended opposite the western slope behind the hills along the left bank of Lookout Creek. Geary's division was on the ground, but Osterhaus's division marched up from Brown's Ferry that very morning and reported for duty at 7:30 A.M. Whitaker's brigade of Cruft's division had marched on the day before twenty-one miles from Shellmound, and Grose's brigade thirteen miles from Whiteside over bad roads and in heavy rain. They reached the valley in a very fatigued condition, and bivouacked for the night near Hooker's headquarters. During the night, Cruft was ordered to send Whitaker's brigade to Geary, to whom it reported at 6 A.M. and remained under his orders all day. Geary was to work from the right, Cruft with Grose's brigade from the left, and Osterhaus from the centre. The rain ceased during the night, and, as it grew light, the summit of the mountain was found to be entirely concealed in drifting dark clouds, while heavy mists lay like thick veils over its sides. These conditions continued all day. They were a favor of nature, and of the greatest service to us, as they prevented the enemy from discovering any of our movements until we were nearly upon them.
Geary's command was marched up the valley to a point about two and a half miles from the mouth of Lookout Creek, where it was massed behind a mill soon after seven o'clock. The creek was found too deep to be forded. The pioneers were ordered to bridge it under cover of two companies. By a skilful manœuvre the rebel pickets on the other bank, with their reserve to the number of forty-two, including an officer, were surprised, and surrendered without firing a shot. A small detachment was sent up a trail bearing to the southwest, in order to mislead the enemy as to the real direction of our attack. It soon skirmished with the enemy. The bridge was finished by half-past eight, and the four brigades crossed rapidly. They were formed in three lines, somewhat en échelon, with eight regiments in front, four regiments about 350 yards to the rear as the second line, and two regiments as the third at a further distance of about 100 yards. Whitaker's brigade formed and followed as the reserve. The distance to be traversed from the starting-point to the plateau on the mountain was not less than three miles. At nine o'clock, the whole line moved forward, preceded by a heavy chain of skirmishers. For a mile and a quarter, no enemy but the most serious difficulties of ground were encountered. The mountainside sloped at an angle of nearly forty-five degrees, and was deeply furrowed by a succession of ravines of almost perpendicular ascents and descents. The troops not only had to do hard climbing, but, time and again, were creeping on all fours. Before ten o'clock, the hostile pickets were encountered and driven back for a mile upon their supports and Walthall's brigade, which awaited our attack in a position on the plateau protected naturally by thickly scattered rocks, and artificially by abattis and breastworks of sand, stone, and logs. As our line neared the enemy, it received a heavy musketry fire, to which reply was made with a few volleys, followed, as the fog lifted, by a rush with defiant cheers over the obstructions right upon the rebels, most of whom, after a brief resistance, threw down their arms and surrendered. Many of their dead and wounded were lying about the ground. Four flags and considerable equipment were taken. Sending his prisoners — the bulk of Walthall's brigade — to the rear, Geary continued his toilsome advance over great obstacles along the plateau towards Cravens house and the Palisades. Near the house, part of his line was checked and thrown into some disorder, but the reserve under Whitaker, which, owing to the course of its ascent, had brought up on the right flank of the front line next to the Palisades, gave support and the advance was soon resumed. The house was reached about noon and two pieces of artillery captured near it. Pushing on around the Palisades, our right, in approaching them, became exposed to the fire of rebel shooters and to hand-grenades thrown from the crest of the Palisades, but got up to their lower bench, when orders to stop and fortify the position gained were received from General Hooker.
At this time, Osterhaus's command also appeared, and relieved some of Geary's regiments at the front. Of the former, Colonel Williamson's brigade had a bridge over Lookout Creek ready by ten o'clock, and General Wood's brigade another half a mile further up the creek by eleven. But both brigades did not move, according to orders, until Geary's fire was heard at the last-named hour. Our artillery opened vigorously to cover their passage of the creek. The crossing and the movements beyond were made so rapidly that Williamson got undiscovered to the rear of the picket line and grand guard of Moore's rebel brigade, and captured the whole of them. Osterhaus accomplished the ascent without meeting resistance. General Cruft, on arriving, with his one remaining brigade under Colonel Grose, at the bridge which he was to repair and cross, found it held by the enemy, and that it would take too much time to refit for the passage of troops. General Hooker also observed this, and ordered him to leave two regiments at the bridge and move on with the remaining four to the one where General Wood was preparing to cross. After getting over the stream, Grose's regiments worked up the mountain between Osterhaus's brigades and reached the plateau about the same time.
The rebel force beaten back by Geary was Walthall's brigade. About the time Whitaker and Osterhaus appeared on the front, an offensive attempt was made against them, but was easily repulsed. It came from Moore's brigade, which lay on the right of Walthall's brigade before the action. When the firing commenced in front of the latter, General Jackson ordered Moore to move his command into the trenches next to Walthall's, but the latter was not found in position, as he had decided to accept fight in front of his trenches. Before Moore reached them, he discovered that Walthall had been driven away to the rear of them on the left, but he claims to have occupied and held his side of them, in spite of exposure to an enfilading fire and repeated attacks, till between three and four o'clock, when he fell back about a quarter of a mile. Here he found support in General Pettus's brigade of three Alabama regiments, numbering about 1000 men, of Stevenson's division, which had been sent down from the summit ridge in response to a call from General Jackson for assistance. Later, Walthall placed on the latter's left such remnants of his brigade as he had been able to gather together. Moore took position on the right of Pettus. The Confederates claimed to have held this line against repeated attempts from our side to drive them away. These alleged attacks were in reality nothing more than feelers from our front for the enemy, whose presence even at a distance of only 100 feet could not be detected on account of the fog. General Carlin's brigade of the Fourteenth Corps, which had been ordered to reinforce Hooker from Chattanooga, reached the mountain at five o'clock, and was ordered to relieve Geary and Whitaker near the White House. It underwent a most trying experience in scaling the mountain in the darkness. The day closed with irregular firing along our front, which also continued till long after midnight. Carlin's front was threatened twice by offensive demonstrations, which were easily warded off.
The main work of the day was naturally done by our infantry. But while neither cavalry nor artillery could accompany it in the ascent, the latter arm played a very useful part by maintaining from two full field batteries and a section of howitzers and another of Parrott twenty-pounders an enfilading fire upon the lower parts of the mountain, which thoroughly demoralized the enemy occupying them. The Parrott in position at Moccasin Point on the farther bank of the Tennessee also joined in this roaring concert. Our missiles reached the rebel camps in Chattanooga Valley as well as the roads on the east side of the mountain. The artillery played most of the forenoon, but ceased firing after our troops were known to be on the plateau.
During the forenoon, there was a lifting and falling of mist and fog on the mountain, like the rise and drop of a stage curtain. There were spells when our climbing columns could be plainly seen, only to be suddenly and wholly shut from sight. The struggle culminated literally in a “battle above the clouds” at about two o'clock. Then the cloud cap of the summit spread and sank down its slopes into the valley, wrapping the entire mountain in a mantle of dense vapors. An eclipse-like darkness settled upon the scene. For a time only the sounds of musketry told of the progress of the strife. After a while, rifts in the cloud would bring ever and anon confirmation of growing success by passing views of our flags and men. During the intervals of obscurity, there was racking suspense among the anxious observers in the group of the Commanding General and his staff below, which at once yielded to intense joy as light was successively thrown upon the situation above. It was felt that while the atmospheric conditions had been an advantage in the ascent, they might be such to the enemy after they had come to close quarters. But the glorious achievement of the Union forces was fully accomplished without untoward incident from either the confinement of vision or the difficulty of maintaining order and regularity of movement over such encumbered, broken, and slanting ground. This heroic exploit cost us comparatively very small losses. They did not exceed 300 killed and wounded, and this mercy we owed to the fog.
General Hooker could well indulge in the pæan of his congratulatory order of the following day, and say to his command that “the triumphs of yesterday . . . will be remembered as long as the giant peak of Lookout shall be their mute but eloquent monument.” A contrary mood was naturally induced in the mind of the rebel Commander-in-chief by the events of the day. Although he knew from the firing that a struggle was going on for the control of Lookout Mountain, he learned of the reverse to his left only about 4 P.M., when he immediately started for General Stevenson's headquarters. Arriving there at sunset, he soon understood that the position on the mountain was lost, and determined to withdraw his troops across Chattanooga Creek to Missionary Ridge, and gave orders accordingly, which were carried out between midnight and day break, and so quietly as to be undiscovered. In his official report, Bragg tries to throw the blame for the disaster upon General Stevenson, and the reports of the three brigades engaged ascribe it to neglect of duty by the division-commander Jackson. But the truth probably is that the difficulty of communication and observation caused by the fog was chiefly responsible for the defeat.
The losses of the three rebel brigades reported in their official reports are utterly at variance with the statements of the Union generals. Walthall admits only 8 killed, 111 wounded, and 853 missing; Moore 9 killed, 39 wounded, and 206 missing; Pettus 9 killed, 38 wounded, and 9 missing; or a total of 26 killed, 188 wounded, and 1068 missing. Geary alone, on the other hand, claimed to have found 125 killed and 300 wounded rebels on the field and to have captured 1940 prisoners, to which latter several hundred taken by Osterhaus and Cruft must be added. The Records afford no means of explaining the discrepancies.
The object of our assault upon the Mountain was not only to complete the security of our lines of communication, but also to threaten the left flank and line of retreat of the enemy in support of the finishing blows to be struck by our left and centre on the morrow. If the Confederates succeeded in holding Hooker at bay, he would be foiled in this aim on the one hand, but, on the other, the hostile line would remain weak by reason of its excessive length and less capable of resisting the proposed general attack. General Grant felt certain anyway that our partial success on the Mountain would keep Bragg from strengthening his right, against which, according to programme, our next attack was first to be delivered by Sherman; hence he ordered the latter to “attack at dawn,” with simultaneous notice that Thomas would also strike from the centre early in the day.
[Here the narrative of military operations ends abruptly. From this point the Autobiography is, as explained in the Preface, continued to the close in the third person.]