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.

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