Monday, November 25, 2013

November 25, 1863: The Union Army of the Cumberland storms Missionary Ridge

Missionary Ridge as seen from Orchard Knob.

From "The Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga" by Joseph S. Fullerton:
None of the men of the Army of the Cumberland, who for nine weeks were buried in the trenches at Chattanooga, can ever forget the glorious night of the 24th of November. As the sun went down, the clouds rolled up the mountain, and the mist was blown out of the valley. Night came on clear, with the stars lighting up the heavens.

But there followed a sight to cheer their hearts and thrill their souls. Away off to their right, and reaching skyward, Lookout Mountain w as ablaze with the fires of Hooker's men, while off to their left, and reaching far above the valley, the north end of Missionary Ridge was aflame with the lights of Sherman's army. The great iron crescent that had, with threatening aspect, so long hung over them, was disappearing. The only thought that dampened their enthusiasm was that the enemy was being destroyed on the flanks, while they were tied down in the center, without a part in the victories. But late that night General Grant, thinking that General Sherman had carried Tunnel Hill, and acting in that belief, gave orders for the next day's battle. General Sherman was directed to attack the enemy at early dawn, Thomas to cooperate with him, and Hooker, to be ready to advance into Chattanooga Valley, to hold the road that zigzagged from the valley to the summit.

Early the next morning, when General Grant learned that the ridge had not been carried as far as Tunnel Hill, and that Lookout Mountain had been evacuated by the enemy, he suspended his orders, except those to Sherman, and directed Hooker to come down from the mountain, to carry the pass at Rossville, and then operate on Bragg's left and rear. Bragg's army was now concentrated on Missionary Ridge, and in the valley at the east foot. Cheatham's and Stevenson's divisions had been withdrawn from Lookout Mountain on the night of the 24th, and, marching all night, were seen at dawn the next morning moving along the summit of Missionary Ridge, on the way to reenforce Bragg's right. For several hours after daylight the flowing of this steady stream of troops continued.

Early in the morning of the 25th General Grant and General Thomas established their headquarters on Orchard Knob, a point from which the best view of the movements of the whole army could be had. At sunrise General Sherman commenced his attack, but after repeated assaults and severe fighting, it appearing to be impossible for General Sherman to take the enemy's works, operations ceased early in the afternoon.

Meanwhile Hooker was detained three hours at Chattanooga Creek, while a bridge that the retreating enemy had burned was being rebuilt. As soon as he had taken Rossville, he moved against the south end of Missionary Ridge. The ridge was quickly carried, and, sweeping northward, Hooker soon came upon Stewart's division, posted on the summit, and behind the earth-works which the Army of the Cumberland had thrown up the day after Chickamauga. Cruft's division assaulted and carried the works, thus having the good fortune of retaking the works they themselves had constructed. It was by this time nearly sundown. Hooker reached the south end of the ridge too late in the day to relieve the pressure on Sherman, who was at the north end six miles off.

Bragg's right had not been turned. Success had not followed Sherman's movement. The battle as planned had not been won.

Late on this memorable afternoon there was an accident-an accident like the charge at Balaklava ; though, unlike this theme for poetry, it called for greater daring, and was attended by complete success, and yielded most important results, for it led to the complete shattering of the enemy's army, and drove him from the field. On Orchard Knob, and opposite the center of Missionary Ridge, were four divisions of the Army of the Cumberland. On the left was Baird's division ; then Wood's and Sheridan's divisions occupying the lines which, two days before, they had taken in their magnificent advance ; on the right was R. W. Johnson's division,-all under the personal command of Thomas. It was past 3 o'clock.

General Sherman had ceased operations. General Hooker's advance had not yet been felt. The day was dying, and Bragg still held the ridge. If any movement to dislodge him was to be made that day it must be made at once. At half-past three o'clock an attack was ordered by General Grant.

He had changed his plan of battle. At once orders were issued that at the firing, in rapid succession, of six guns on Orchard Knob, Thomas's whole line should instantaneously move forward, Sheridan's and Wood's divisions in the center, Sheridan to be supported on the right by Johnson, and Wood on the left by Baird. This demonstration was to be made to relieve the pressure on Sherman. The only order given was to move forward and take the rifle-pits at the foot of the ridge. In Sheridan's division the order was, " As soon as the signal is given, the v-hole line will advance, and you will take what is before you." Between Orchard Knob and Missionary Ridge was a valley, partly covered with a small growth of timber. It was wooded in front of the right of Baird's and of the whole of Wood's division. In front, of Sheridan's and Johnson's it had been almost entirely cleared. At the foot of the ridge were heavy rifle-pits, which could be seen from Orchard Knob, and extending in front of them, for four and five hundred yards, the ground was covered with felled trees. There was a good plain for both direct and enfilading fire from the rifle-pits, and the approaches were commanded by the enemy's artillery. At this point the ridge is five or six hundred feet high. Its side, scored with gullies and showing but little timber, had a rough and bare appearance. Half-way up was another line of rifle-pits, and the summit was furrowed with additional lines and dotted over with epaulements, in which were placed fifty pieces of artillery. Directly in front of Orchard Knob, and on the summit of the ridge, in a small house, was Bragg's headquarters.

At twenty minutes before four the signal-guns were fired. Suddenly twenty thousand men rushed forward, moving in line of battle by brigades, with a double line of skirmishers in front, and closely followed by the reserves in mass. The big siege-guns in the Chattanooga forts roared above the light artillery and musketry in the valley. The enemy's rifle-pits were ablaze, and the whole ridge in our front had broken out like another Aetna. Not many minutes afterward our men were seen working through the felled trees and other obstructions.

Though exposed to such a terrific fire, they neither fell back nor halted. By a bold and desperate push they broke through the works in several places and opened flank and reverse fires. The enemy was thrown into confusion, and took precipitate flight up the ridge. Many prisoners and a large number of small-arms were captured. The order of the commanding general had now been fully and most successfully carried out. But it did not go far enough to satisfy these brave men, who thought the time had come to finish the battle of Chickamauga. There was a halt of but a few minutes, to take breath and to re-form lines ; then , with a sudden impulse, and without orders, all started up the ridge. Officers, catching their spirit, first followed, then led. There was no thought of supports or of protecting flanks, though the enemy's line could be seen, stretching on either side.

As soon as this movement was seen from Orchard Knob, Grant quickly turned to Thomas, who stood by his side, and I heard him say angrily : " Thomas, who ordered those men up the ridge? " Thomas replied, in his usual slow, quiet manner: "I don't know; I did not." Then, addressing General Gordon Granger, he said, "Did you order them up, Granger?" "No," said Granger; "they started up without orders. When those fellows get started all hell can't stop them." General Grant said something to the effect that somebody would suffer if it did not turn out well, and then, turning, stoically watched the ridge. He gave no further orders.

As soon as Granger had replied to Thomas, he turned to me, his chief-of-staff, and said: "Ride at once to Wood, and then to Sheridan, and ask them if they ordered their men up the ridge, and tell them, if they can take it, to push ahead." As I was mounting, Granger added : " It is hot over , there, and you may not get through. I shall send Captain Avery to Sheridan and other officers after both of you." As fast as my horse could carry me, I rode first to General Wood, and delivered the message. "I didn't order them up," said Wood; " they started up on their own account , and they are going up, too! Tell Granger, if we are supported, we will take and hold the ridge !" As soon as I reached General Wood, Captain Avery got to General Sheridan, and delivered his message. "I didn't order them up," said Sheridan " ; but we are going to take the ridge !" He then asked Avery for his flask and waved it at a group of Confederate officers, standing just in front of Bragg's headquarters, with the salutation, " Here's at you!" At once two guns-the "Lady Breckinridge" and the "Lady Buckner"-in front of Bragg's headquarters were fired at Sheridan and the group of officers about him. One shell struck so near as to throw dirt over Sheridan and Avery. "Ah!" said the general, "that is ungenerous; I shall take those guns for that !" Before Sheridan received the message taken by Captain Avery, he had sent a staff-officer to Granger, to inquire whether "the order given to take the rifle-pits meant the rifle-pits at the base, or those on the top of the ridge." Granger told this officer that " the order given was to take those at the base. Conceiving this to be an order to fall back, the officer, on his way to Sheridan, gave it to General Wagner, commanding the Second Brigade of the division, which was then nearly half-way up the ridge. Wagner ordered his brigade back to the rifle-pits at the base, but it only remained there till Sheridan, seeing the mistake, ordered it forward. It again advanced under a terrific fire.

The men, fighting and climbing up the steep hill, sought the roads, ravines, and less rugged parts. The ground was so broken that it was impossible to keep a regular line of battle. At times their movements were in shape like the flight of migratory birds-sometimes in line, sometimes in mass, mostly in V-shaped groups, with the points toward the enemy. At these points regimental flags were flying, sometimes drooping as the bearers were shot, but never reaching the ground, for other brave hands were there to seize them.

Sixty flags were advancing up the hill. Bragg was hurrying large bodies of men from his right to the center. They could be seen hastening along the ridge. Cheatham's division was being withdrawn from Sherman's front. Bragg and Hardee were at the center, urging their men to stand firm and drive back the advancing enemy, now so near the summit-indeed, so near that, the guns, which could not be sufficiently depressed to reach them, became useless. Artillerymen were lighting the fuses of shells, and bowling them by hundreds down the hill. The critical moment arrived when the summit was just within reach. At six different points, and almost simultaneously, Sheridan's and Wood's divisions broke over the crest; Sheridan's first, near Bragg's headquarters; and in a few minutes Sheridan was beside the guns that had been fired at him, and claiming them as captures of his division. Baird's division took the works on Wood's left almost immediately afterward ; and then Johnson came up on Sheridan's right.

The enemy's guns were turned upon those who still remained in the works, and soon all were in flight down the eastern slope. Baird got on the ridge just in time to change front and oppose a large body of the enemy moving down from Bragg's right to attack our left. After a sharp engagement, that lasted till dark, he drove the enemy back beyond a high point on the north, which he at once occupied.

The sun had not yet gone down, Missionary Ridge was ours, and Bragg's army was broken and in fight ! Dead and wounded comrades lay thickly strewn on the ground : but thicker yet were the dead and wounded men in gray. Then followed the wildest confusion, as the victors gave vent to their joy. Some madly shouted; some wept from very excess of joy; some grotesquely danced out their delight,-even our wounded forgot their pain, to join in the general hurrah. But Sheridan did not long stop to receive praise and congratulations.

With two brigades he started down the Mission Mills road, and found, strongly posted on a second hill, the enemy's rear. They made a stout resistance, but by a sudden flank movement he drove them from the heights and captured two guns and many prisoners. The day was succeeded by a clear moonlight night. At 7 o'clock General Granger sent word to General Thomas that by a bold dash at Chickamauga Crossing he might cut off a large number of the enemy now supposed to be leaving Sherman's front, and that he proposed to move in that direction. It was midnight before guides could be found, and then General Sheridan again put his tired and well-worn men in motion. He reached the creek just as the rear-guard of the enemy was crossing, and pressed it so closely that it burned the pontoon-bridge before all its troops were over. Here Sheridan captured several hundred prisoners, a large number of quartermasters' wagons, together with caissons, artillery, ammunition, and many small-arms.

In this battle Sheridan's and Wood's divisions -the two center assaulting divisions-took 31 pieces of artillery, several thousand small-arms, and 3800 prisoners. In that one hour of assault they lost 2337 men in killed and wounded,-over twenty per cent. of their whole force ! On the northern end of the ridge General Sherman lost in his two days' fighting 1097 in killed and wounded.

Of these, 1268 were in his own three divisions.

During the night the last of Bragg's army was with drawn from Missionary Ridge, and Chattanooga from that time remained in undisputed possession of the Union forces.

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