Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Following the defeat of Major General Rosecrans on September 20, 1863 at Chickamauga by General Bragg and retreat back north into Chattanooga, General Bragg decided to lay siege to the city. It is not known why General Bragg did not immediately attack the city following the victory at Chickamauga, but certainly part of the reason was his knowledge of the defensive fortifications within the city which the Confederates had created prior to vacating the city in August and certainly improved upon by the Union troops. Instead the Confederate army occupied the high ground around the city, primarily Missionary Ridge to the east and south, and Lookout Mountain to the southwest. From there they controlled access to Chattano0ga forcing the Union only a single access route over Walden’s Ridge to Bridgeport, Alabama that was severely damaged from heavy rains. Facing starvation, Major General Rosecrans planned on breaking out of Chattanooga and retreating to Knoxville. However, Major General Grant was placed in command over all the armies in the Western theater and he replaced Rosecrans with Major Thomas and ordered him to hold Chattanooga at all cost. Grant approved plans to establish a series of 3 pontoon bridges across three parts of the Tennessee River providing access to Bridgeport, Alabama and ordered Major General Hooker to proceed from Bridgeport to Chattanooga. Thus the “cracker line” was opened allowing vital supplies and fresh troops to enter the city. Grant also ordered Major General Sherman to move his forces from Vicksburg, Mississippi. This brought a numerical advantage to the Union troops over the Confederate forces, which had been reduced by about 25% by General Bragg sending Lt. General Longstreet’s division to attempt to push Maj General Burnside out of Knoxville and reopen the supply line to Virginia. Once Sherman arrived on November 20, plans were finalized to break the siege. On November 23, Brig General Woods lined up his division as if for a parade, a common training maneuver the Confederate forces had observed over the past couple of months, and overran Orchard Knob near the base of Missionary Ridge, with few casualties on either side. Orchard Knob offered a good view of both Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain and became Grant’s Headquarters. The plan for November 24 was for Hooker to provide a diversion by advancing on Lookout Mountain, while Sherman would take the north end of Missionary Ridge in a surprise attack since General Bragg had believed Sherman had moved his forces to reinforce Burnside and counter Longstreet’s move towards Knoxville. However, Hooker was looking to reestablish his tarnished reputation after his defeat at Wauhatchie earlier in the month. Instead of providing a diversion, Hooker attacked Lookout Mountain with the objective of driving the Confederates from the Mountain. By about 3:00 pm a thick fog had descended on the mountain and along with the smoke of battle, the engagement became known as the “Battle Above the Ground”. By evening the Union troops had forced the Confederate forces from the base of the mountain and about half way up the northern side to Cravens House. In the meantime, Sherman did surprise the Confederate forces, however, due to poor maps he had taken Billy Goat Hill instead of the northern end of Missionary Ridge and was faced with a 750 foot ravine against the fortified end of Missionary Ridge known as Tunnel Hill. Rather than attacking this fortified position, Sherman decided to dig in on Billy Goat Hill for the night. During the night Bragg pulled the Confederate forces from Lookout Mountain, burning the bridges across Chickamauga Creek behind them. The next morning Hooker sent scouts to the top of Lookout Mountain to find out the Confederates had vacated the mountain and then spent most of November 24 attempting to cross Chickamauga Creek. On November 24, Sherman was also having difficulty assaulting Tunnel Hill. To relieve the pressure on Sherman, Grant ordered Thomas to advance his forces to take the rifle pits along the base of Missionary Ridge near the center of the line. It should be noted that Thomas’ division had been defeated at the battle of Chickamauga and had been the soldiers under siege in Chattanooga. They were certainly wanting payback and easily took the rifle pits. However, they were in an exposed position being at the bottom of Missionary Ridge with the muskets and cannon firing down on them. Rather than consolidating their position as they were ordered, Thomas men chased the Confederates up the side of Missionary Ridge. The Confederates were taken by surprise by this maneuver and a rout up the side of the ridge began. In addition, the Confederate cannons had been placed at the top of the ridge instead of the brow to fire out into the valley and were out of position to shoot effectively down the side of the ridge. Thomas was able to reach the top of Missionary Ridge right on top of General Bragg’s headquarters. A general retreat of the Confederate forces to the next ridge to the east and eventually south into Georgia was the only option for the Confederates as the Union forces began rolling up their line both north and south along Missionary Ridge. Thus the siege of Chattanooga was broken leaving this critical railway hub in Union hands and opening up the industrial center of the Confederacy. This battle marked the beginning of the end to the Civil War as Sherman used Chattanooga as his base of operations for his march to the coast the next spring, breaking the back of the Confederacy.
1) There is not much to see of the actual battlefield today except for a number of monuments showing troop positions. The Military Park consists of three major parts. Orchard Knob where General Grant moved his headquarters in preparation for the battle, Point Park at the top of Lookout Mountain, and a series of “Reserves” along Missionary Ridge.
2) Being on top of Lookout Mountain, Point Park is a must see. The views of the Tennessee River and the present city of Chattanooga are breath taking and well worth the trip by itself. In addition, there is a steep walk down to an old stone building housing a small museum dedicated to the Signal Corps and it’s importance to the communications during the siege of Chattanooga. We also had the opportunity to participate in a Ranger talk which, along with our recent knowledge of the Battle of Chickamauga and our visit last March to Gettysburg, added to our understanding of the Civil War and the importance of each of these battles, along with Vicksburg, to determining the outcome of the Civil War. I would strongly recommend taking advantage of any Ranger talks when you visit any National Park! They are always worth the time and add significantly to your understanding. Cravens House, which was the extent the Union advance on Lookout Mountain on November 23, is also part of the National Park, however, parking is very limited and we did not stop there.
3) Missionary Ridge is a narrow residential road along the spine of the ridge with no places to park except at a couple of the reserves that are managed by the National Park Service. You will still see the placards and monuments marking both Union and Confederate troop placements that are common on all Civil War battlefields, however, in this case they are in the front yards of the residents living on Missionary Ridge. There was even a couple of Confederate cannons placed where they were at the time of the battle, except now they are pointed directly at the front door of a house! The two main reserves are “Bragg Reserve” and “Sherman Reserve”. Bragg Reserve is the location of General Bragg’s headquarters and is a good place to see the challenges faced by Major Thomas in taking the center of the ridge. Sherman Reserve is Tunnel Hill, the northern end of Missionary Ridge, and is a nice walk through the woods to all the monuments memorializing the battle on November 24. There is also the remnants of the earthen breastworks from the battle.
4) Over the years, Kal and I have visited a number of Civil War battlefields and I have a general understanding of the Civil War (Kal has a much better understanding). I would certainly recommend making these visits over a much shorter time span. In the past year we have already visited a number of the battlefields, especially in the east, and will see a lot more over the next couple of years. Getting familiar with the names, places, and dates, is adding a lot to my understanding of the Civil War. For example, I remember the story of General Hill, who lost his arm at Gettysburg. To find out that he then lost a leg at Chattanooga just a few months later and still continued to command, would only have been possible because we have visited both of the battlefields within a six month period.