The Battle of Chattanooga was of crucial importance in the American Civil War. Find out here how the events that led up to the battle unfolded and what the outcome meant.
How It Began - Chickamauga
The events of the Battle of Chattanooga stretched from September 18th through November 25,1863. There was a race to take Chattanooga. Everyone, including President Lincoln, knew this was a vital battle that would play a crucial part in deciding who would win the Civil War. The Confederates convinced the Union army that they were retreating, causing them to spread out under the authority of Major General William Rosecrans, and eventually lose at Chickamauga Creek in Tennessee.
The Confederates, consisting of 60,000 men, won against the Union army of 25,000 at Chickamauga. The final battle there was between General Braxton Bragg of the Confederates, and General George Thomas leading the Union. This battle was a loss for the Union and a distraction put in place by Bragg to allow the Confederates to dig in at Chattanooga. General Rosecrans fortified Chattanooga for the Union the best he could, ultimately losing the heights of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge to Bragg.
Starving Out the Union
Shortly after losing at Chickamauga Creek, Union forces captured the railhead and steamboat centers. In early fall of 1863, Rebel forces moved into the mountains and bluffs overlooking Chattanooga. Bragg's army laid siege to the Union army under Rosecrans at Chattanooga, cutting off their supplies. The Union Army became trapped by Bragg and his men at Chattanooga.
As Confederates commanded posts nearly 2,000 feet up above the Tennessee Valley on Lookout Mountain, they fired on Union rail and steamboat movements. The Rebels also cut off the only rail line to the northeast and Virginia, making it look very bleak for Rosecrans and the Union.
The supply deficit for the Union was at critically low levels. Bragg decided to starve the Union out instead of attacking them. It is said Bragg was buying time so he could clean up his army, ridding it of insubordinates, but no one really knows why he chose not to attack the retreating Union army. One of the biggest insubordinates was Lieutenant General Longstreet. He had come to serve with Bragg with the hopes of replacing him, but that never happened.
A Blow to the Confederates
On October 17th, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant received command of the Western Union armies arriving at Chattanooga on the 23rd of October. As he moved to Chattanooga on October 19th, he replaced Rosecrans with General George Thomas. The Union had gotten rid of Rosecrans, who was deemed a failing leader, but Bragg, who had one of the worst reputations, was allowed to continue on for the Confederates.
Shortly after this switch of power, Major General Joseph Hooker moved in with 20,000 Union forces. Longstreet was given responsibility over the entire left flank but neglected his charge to take effective measures against the incoming Union army from the west. The left Confederate flank was supposed to hit Hooker and the Union with all they had, but this did not happen. Instead, on Oct 28th, Longstreet ordered a night raid on Hookers' rear guard which proved to be very minor. This allowed Hooker to stay as long as he wanted, leaving no way for the Confederates to get him out, and was a huge blow to the efforts of the Confederates.
The Battle Above the Clouds
After this fumble, the Union was able to repair their supply lines very quickly. The line of supply from the Nashville railroad to Stevenson, Alabama, was connected by steamboats to Kelley's Ferry. From there, supplies were carried to Chattanooga on the easy wagon and railroad route past Raccoon Mountain to Browns Ferry. They called this the "cracker line." Within days, engineers had erected a pontoon bridge west of town and supplies began moving again into Chattanooga for the Union troops. The scales of the siege began turning as this new supply line was quickly established.
Major General William T. Sherman arrived in mid-November, and not a day too soon. He brought with him his four divisions consisting of 17,000 men, and the Federals quickly began offensive operations. This ushered in a new plan and on November 23rd, Thomas' troops overtook the Confederates at Orchard Knob, between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge. November 24th became known for the "Battle Above the Clouds" as Hooker drove his men on to a Union victory at Lookout Mountain. Finally, on November 25th, the last day of the battle, the Union army crushed the Confederates at Missionary Ridge, pushing them south to Georgia, where they would meet their final defeat.
The main battle at Chattanooga occurred on November 23rd through the 25th. This Union victory gained them "the gateway to the lower south" which became Sherman's supply line for the 1864 Campaign in Atlanta, Georgia.
Timeline of the Final Day
The Battle on November 25th
- On November 25,1863, the final battle begins with Hooker signaling readiness at 9:20 a.m. Thomas nudges Grant to alert him to Hookers readiness, while portions of Sherman's army are still marching north on the ridge of Lookout Mountain.
- At 9:30 a.m., orders are given to Hooker to move.
- Hooker begins moving at 10:00 a.m.
- Also at 10:00 a.m., Sherman's troops begin attacking at Tunnel Hill.
- Bragg reports Hooker's movement at 11:00 a.m.
- Bragg receives a report about activity at Chattanooga Creek at 12:30 p.m. and orders the "first stringers" to go there.
- At 1:35 p.m. Hooker announces he needs one more hour to complete the bridge over the Chickamauga Creek, as Rossville Gap is being secured by the Union.
- Also at 1:35 p.m., rifle fire is heard by Grand and Thomas and up on the ridge as well as Rossville Gap is under fire.
- Sherman's men also take Tunnel Hill from the west at 1:35 p.m.
- Hooker begins firing cannons across Chattanooga creek at 2:30 p.m.
- At the same time, Grant returns from lunch to hear cannon fire from the south, and suggests that Thomas move his troops to the rifle pits and then stop.
- Sherman's fight leads to prisoners being taken, so he calls it quits.
- At 3:00 p.m. Hooker and other Union leaders drive the enemy along the rear of the ridge without meeting opposition.
- From 3:15 to 3:30 p.m., the Union troops continue to move from the southwest, continuing north center with no opposition whatsoever.
- At this time, Grant can clearly hear the battle from Hooker's direction, and is clearly heard repeating the order to Thomas to move to the rifle pits and stop.
- Panicked Confederates flee toward the middle and down the eastern side of the ridge as Hooker's men are at his heels at 3:40 p.m.
- Also at 3:40 p.m., six cannons are fired from Thomas' 4th and 14th corps toward the ridge.
- By 4:50 p.m., the Union army now sits directly behind Bragg's headquarters.
- Also at 4:50 p.m., one of Thomas' divisions breaks through Sharp's spur.
- At 5:00 p.m., 2,000 Confederates are taken prisoner.
- Grant tells Sherman also to attack at 5:00 p.m.
- At 6:00 p.m., the two sides converge on the top of the ridge.
- Hooker celebrates on the ridge.
- At the last hour some Union men are killed, pursuing the enemy in the dark.
The Battle of Chattanooga was a vital turning point in the Civil War. It opened the door for the Union forces to invade the deep south, making it possible to capture Atlanta just in time to influence the 1864 Presidential and Congressional elections.
It is rumored that Grant and Thomas did not like each other. Equally as interesting, Grant is said to have gone to lunch at 2:00 p.m. on the 25th of November amidst the fighting.
At 2:30 p.m. Sherman reportedly called it quits and did not report this fact to Grant. It is said that Grant tells Sherman that Thomas has "carried the hill" at around 5:00 p.m., then tells Sherman to pursue. The records of the conversation mysteriously are missing. Thomas did not pursue.