Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Push Toward Missionary Ridge

Note:  The events that follow are but a portion of the Battle for Chattanooga which occurred primarily from November 20 -30 in 1863.  Although many accounts are available, no great appreciation for these events can be gained without seeing the unique terrain first hand.  A visit to our oldest National Battlefield Park (Chickamauga) and the surrounding sites in and around Chattanooga is imperative.  Blue and Gray magazine's Missionary Ridge edition (XXIX, #6) provides a wonderful tour from the encyclopedic mind of Jim Ogden, Chief Historian of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

On November 23, 1863, General Thomas gave the order to push the Confederate skirmish line back toward Missionary Ridge.    The observation of Cleburne's forces' withdrawal along with rumors that the entire Army of Mississippi was heading towards Knoxville had caused Grant to request a reconnaissance in force.  From Orchard Knob he would have a better view of the enemy's movements. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions, under Sheridan and Wood respectively, with Baird (3, XIV) protecting their right  and Howard (XI) their left moved forward, driving back the enemy pickets.  

Although their orders were to observe and report back to General Grant after returning to their entrenchments, General Wood's and Sheridan's Divisions took and held their positions.  This over-exuberance was entirely understandable, coming from the men who had been repeatedly routed at the Battle of Chickamauga only two month's earlier, who had been mocked and derided for their failures when, in fact, they were never put in a position to succeed due to leadership blunders and miss-communications, who had been starved for weeks after being on half-rations much of that summer.  When given the chance to run some rebel soldiers off their high ground, they would not be denied.  Their professionalism would no longer be in doubt, they would show Grant (who had commanded the 17th Kentucky at Fort Donnelson and Shiloh) that they were not the bunch of undisciplined recruits they had been made out to be. They would take and hold this ground and it would become Grant's Headquarters for the rest of this engagement.

Of their performance on that day:  I never saw troops move into action in finer style than Thomas's did today. They are entitled to the highest praise for their soldierly bearing and splendid bravery.
Grant's chief of staff, John Rawlins (Cozzens, p 135) *

The view from Grant's Headquarters on Orchard Knob.  Missionary Ridge is in the distance.

Orchard Knob Military Reservation monuments, viewed from the east.

See for a brief summary of this and other actions in this Battle for Chattanooga.

  • Cozzens, Peter. The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. ISBN 0-252-01922-9.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Breaking the Siege

View from Lookout Mountain toward Missionary Ridge.  Bragg's Headquarters during the Siege of Chattanooga was near the gap in the center of this frame.  The Civil War City of Chattanooga lay mid fame to the left.

Once the"'Cracker Line" had been opened and Sherman's troops had arrived from their successful siege of Vicksburg, Grant's next objective was to break out of Chattanooga and attack The Army of Mississippi in their strong holds on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

To this end, Bragg was being cooperative, having detached Longstreet's corps from their position on Missionary Ridge to Chickamauga Station.  There, they would entrain for Knoxville in a failed attempt to retake that city.  To further exacerbate his own problems, he would then order arguably his best field commander, General Patrick Cleburne to follow Longstreet.

Meanwhile, Granger's IV Corps (including the 17th Kentucky) was stretched along the southeast border of Chattanooga, parallel and opposed to Bragg's right which was defending the northern end of Missionary Ridge.  Wood's Division (including the 17th Kentucky) occupied a particularly suitable defensive position froning his headquarters on a large prominence.  Today, this area is called the Fort Wood Historic District and is about one mile northeast of Orchard Knob Military Reservation, our next scene.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Siege of Chattanooga

There were times of short rations but in general the amount of food was adequate.  The only time the Seventeenth suffered a real shortage of food was during the time they were part of the Army of The Cumberland, and under siege in the area of Chattanooga, Tenn., in the fall of 1863.
                                                                                                                                   John Blackburn,
                                                                                                                                   Regimental Historian*

The retreat into Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga left the remnants of Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland isolated from their supply lines to the east as well as to the west.   The Confederates' hold on Lookout Mountain and the neighboring Wauhatchie Valley blocked resupply from Dechard and their position at Missionary Ridge prevented resupply from Knoxville.  

The Union chose to concentrate on Opening the Cracker Line, so named because of the Hard Tack wheat cracker that was the staple of a soldier's ration, and in a series of operations in and about the Wauhatchie and Lookout Valley finally were able to modestly supply the dwindling army as the sick and wounded continued to perish in Chattanooga.  

It became clear that, in order to save the Army of The Cumberland from certain defeat, Washington had to get involved.

The President's order of October 18th, which created the Military Division of the Mississippi with General Grant in command, placed General Thomas at the head of the Army of the Cumberland.  He assumed command formally on the 19th, and General Rosecrans having dictated a farewell to his army, left for Cincinnati before it was generally known that he had been relieved.

... In compliance with the President's order of September 28th, the Fourth  (Corps) was formed on the 9th of October, by the consolidation of the Twentieth and Twenty-first, and at the same time the Reserve Corps was attached to the Fourteenth.  ...  Under the new organization, there were three brigades in each division, designated as the First, Second and Third, and three divisions in each Corps, similarly distinguished.  Major-General Gordon Granger was assigned to the command of the Fourth Corps, and his division commanders in the numerical order of divisions were Major-Generals J. M. Palmer and P. H. Sheridan and Brigadier-General T. J. Wood.  **

The Seventeenth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, remaining in Sam Beatty's Brigade, is now assigned to Wood's Third Division of Granger's Fourth Corps.

*    Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles, a  Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972,  p.89
**  Van Horne, Thomas B., History of the Army of the Cumberland, 1875, pp. 394-395