A FRIEND remarks that he is sorry I undertake to write on the battle of Chattanooga, because in his judgment the subject has already been thoroughly exhausted.

I know that there are many accounts. I have read several of them, and, so far as my knowledge goes, they are well written and reasonably accurate; but as I was present myself, and took part in this battle, my experience may differ from that of others, and my manner of telling what I saw and heard may throw some additional light upon those important events that have already become the subject of controversy.


After pursuing Lee to the crossing of the Potomac at Williamsport, General Meade’s army, not a little chagrined at the enemy’s escape, turned southward, and crossing the river at Berlin pursued direct routes as far as the Rappahannock.

It took up a new position, with the advance at this time in the vicinity of Culpepper Court House and the rear at or near Catlett’s Station. The lastnamed place was my position, looking defensively to the left and rear. There, on September 24, 1863, without previous warning, the following mandatory summons reached my head-quarters: —

“ The commanding general directs that you have your command [eleventh corps] in readiness to proceed to Washington to-morrow morning by railroad.

“ You will at once notify Mr. J. H. Devereux, superintendent of the road, Alexandria, at what points you desire to have the trains take up your troops, and the number at each place.

“Your command must have five days’ cooked rations. You will not wait to be relieved by other troops, but proceed to Washington the moment the trains are ready to take your command. Please acknowledge.

“By command of Major-General Meade. S. WILLIAMS,

“ Assistant Adjutant-General.’

The twelfth corps, under General H. W. Slocum, received a similar order. Of course, the general quiet was now broken. Cars were drawn from a distance and conveyed rapidly to our vicinity. The army wagons were used to haul the baggage to the different depots nearest at hand, and then left behind. The artillery and horses were to be taken.

Car after car and train after train was loaded with men, animals, and material, and moved forward, one train following another as closely as a regard for safety would allow. The movement was apparently for Washington, but this was not really our destination. General Halleck telegraphed me, the 25 th of September, an order to report to General Hooker at Willard’s Hotel in Washington. I did this at once. Hooker had been placed in command of the eleventh and twelfth corps. He informed me that these two corps were to be transferred to the neighborhood of the army of Rosecrans, then at Chattanooga. The battle of Chickamauga had just been fought, closing on the 21st, only four days before this conversation, by Rosecrans withdrawing his army from the battlefield into that curious place, Chattanooga,— afterwards so familiar to our people, — a sheltered nook lying against the concave bend of the Tennessee, and hemmed in by Lookout Mountain below and by Missionary Ridge above. Here the Confederate General Bragg, with his forces shattered and weakened by the terrific fighting near that river of death, the Chickamauga, undertook to besiege the army of the Cumberland. With fewer words than my story, General Hooker apprised me of these facts, and that his command, as I have described it, was to proceed westward by rail as far as it could, and join Rosecrans with all possible dispatch.

As one may suppose, the trains did not halt at Washington, but immediately took the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Just as soon as everything that pertained to my command was well loaded upon the cars and the last train was in motion, I stepped into a car set apart for my staff and the belongings of the eleventh army corps head-quarters, and followed the moving body.

No matter how many precautions may be taken, there will always be the accompanying accidents to mark the progress of an army moving by rail, as well as on foot. For some reason the soldiers’ thirst for whisky (which is perhaps greater with them than with other men) seemed to be increased by the unusual excitement of this move, and it was arranged that all liquor shops should be closed during the passage of the troops. Two or three men, while drunk, had met with fearful falls from our box cars. This arrangement checked the evil. The operation of crossing the Ohio was rather slow at Benwood, a town situated not far from Wheeling, West Virginia. The cars had to be lowered, ferried over, and raised by machinery on the other bank, but we proceeded with this work with very little delay. The journey through Ohio with our slow-moving trains was quite a memorable ovation; in all the towns and villages the people turned out to cheer us on. At Xenia, Ohio, little girls came with presents of flowers, flags, needle-books, thread-books, papers, etc. They brought everything easily portable and useful to the soldiers that kindness could suggest. How the men did cheer them! — men who knew what war was by experience; fresh from such fields as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and going on to much more and closer work, with few chances in favor of a safe return. It is not strange that many a father’s eye filled with tears, and many a rough face softened into a pleasant smile, as these little ones bade them welcome, and kissed them good-by. I must not forget the people of Dayton for their gentle, thoughtful, sympathetic expressions of loyalty and patriotism, as the soldiers of my corps were passing through.

In some places, of course, there was bitterness, but generally in Ohio and Indiana loyalty prevailed. Occasionally we had to take up a vender of whisky (who was secretly slipping bottles of it into the pockets of the drinkers), carry him a hundred miles or so, and permit him to walk back from some inconvenient point between stations.

The next crossing of the Ohio, at Louisville, Kentucky, was slower. The men were not permitted to handle their own baggage, so that here there was carelessness, confusion, and delay. All sorts of material were mixed together: tents, mess-chests, army clothing, and what not. Brigade and regimental baggage was thrown together savagely, so that for many subsequent days and weeks the lesson was impressed upon all the officers, more particularly upon the indefatigable quartermasters of the command, that unless under compulsion they would never again allow railway men to handle the baggage of their troops.

In five days the two divisions of my corps, the second under Steinwehr and the third under Schurz, had made the journey from the Rappahannock by way of Louisville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Stevenson, Alabama, to Bridgeport, the place where the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad crosses the Tennessee River. We were some time longer in obtaining our wagons and mules, and bringing them up. These had to be escorted by marching troops from Nashville.


I shall never forget General Hooker’s first visit to my camp at Bridgeport.

It was, perhaps, the 4th or 5th of October. The air was damp, but sharp and penetrating; you could see every breath you exhaled. The Confederates had left behind plenty of camp rubbish, and filth of all kinds in every direction. There were no buildings except the old mill and the rough quartermaster-shanties for temporary messing and cover. General Hooker looked around, and was not a little disgusted at the general appearance of the region, as I also had been; but when we came to the river his whole face lighted, and he exclaimed, “ Grand, grand! Is it not? ” So broad, so rapid, so full was its flow at that point, that the sight filled you with those indefinable emotions which strong and active life-power is calculated to inspire. Portions of the Nashville railroad were given us to guard at the time, to keep off the enemy’s enterprising raiders, appearing at different points between the mountains and the river. We could not always do it. You might see, at intervals, trains that had been overturned, and the remains of cars that had been burned. Bridges were often destroyed; but with construction trains always on hand, they were very soon replaced. Across the river, beyond Bridgeport, the Confederates had all the country in possession, for their scouting parties to roam over, for eighteen miles along the railroad to Chattanooga. They had their sentinels and pickets so arranged as to interrupt the most direct wagon road on our side of the river, by firing across at favorable points. All our supplies were being hauled by way of a road farther back, it being more than forty miles from our station at Bridgeport to the army at the front. Even this road had been raided upon by the Confederate cavalry, and a large supply train destroyed. Brave and determined as the army of the Cumberland was, yet when Colonel Hodges, the chief quartermaster of that army, came to my tent at Bridgeport and described to me the situation, the starving and dying condition of the overworked and underfed animals, the saucy conduct and positions of the enemy, and the pressing and increasing needs of Rosecrans’s gallant army, I confess that my sanguine expectancy cooled considerably, and I feared that disaster and defeat would soon come upon Chattanooga. General Rosecrans, having been relieved from his command a little later, came down to Bridgeport and stayed with me overnight on his way to Nashville. He was more hopeful, but General Thomas, who succeeded him, was both hopeful and determined. When General Grant, who had just been assigned to our military division, telegraphed him (October 19, 1863) from Louisville, “Hold Chattanooga at all hazards. I will be there as soon as possible,” he answered promptly, “ I will hold the town till we starve! ” And it is to the very highest credit of his army that there was no murmuring, even at this hard condition; a condition that must have seemed desperate to the hungry soldiers, during the thousands of futile expedients which had hitherto been tried in vain to give the besieged army substantial relief in the way of supplies.


The 2lst of October I visited General Hooker at Stevenson, about ten miles distant from my head-quarters at Bridgeport, and during the interview he told me that General Grant was on the train coming south from Nashville. General Hooker made preparations to receive him, and, doubtless understanding that the general was still lame from the injury he had received through the falling of his horse at New Orleans, sent his springwagon to meet him at the depot, and take him, perhaps half a mile, to the house which he occupied. Hooker did not go himself, I do not now remember the reason. I had gone to the depot to catch the train, and supposed, of course, General Grant would stop at least one night with General Hooker, but I was mistaken. As I entered the car I saw, for the first time, that hero of battles who had been for some time occupying the public attention, enjoying the attacks and defenses of our newspaper press, and of whom, as people will, I had formed a decided preconception. I confess he was quite the opposite of my ideal, — in size small, in color pale at that time, in manner remarkably quiet and retiring.

When I was introduced he gave me his hand, and a pleasant smile spread over his face; then, after perhaps a single complete sentence, he let me do the talking.

General Hooker’s message arrived. Without the least disturbance of manner Grant said, “If General Hooker wishes to see me, he will find me on this train.”General Hooker soon appeared and paid his respects to his commanding general. I wondered then at the manner of this meeting, and presumed it was General Grant’s method of asserting himself where he thought a general who had had large commands and considerable self-assertion might be seeking an ascendency over him. The train, leaving General Hooker at Stevenson, went on to Bridgeport. Here, at my head-quarters, General Grant and staff were made as comfortable as the circumstances would permit, for the night. One incident that occurred so impressed me that I have remembered it. General Grant stayed with me. An empty liquor flask, borrowed at Chattanooga, was left at my tent hanging against the wall, by an officer who had come down from the army. I feared the general would think I drank liquor, so that I said to him at once, as his eye fell on it, “ That flask is not mine; it was left here by an officer to be returned to Chattanooga; I never drink.” General Grant said pleasantly, “ Neither do I.” His whole appearance at that time indorsed this declaration, and was to me the contradiction of a thousand falsehoods which ambition and envy had industriously circulated against him. The next morning, General Rawlins, Grant’s chief-of-staff, then in full health and vigor, made all the necessary preparations for the ride to Chattanooga. He helped the general upon his horse, and the party started to go along the west bank of the Tennessee, by the way of Jasper. That rough journey through mud and rain, over roads nearly impassable at any time, and rendered worse by wagon wrecks and dead animals, that the passing supply train had left behind, has been well described by others. Badeau says, “ Grant, who was still lame and suffering, was carried in the arms of soldiers over spots unsafe or impossible to cross on horseback.” He was in Chattanooga the evening of the 23d of October. The noble General Thomas had already issued his orders to General Hooker to collect parts of his command, the eleventh and a portion of the twelfth corps, at Bridgeport. We knew from this his intention in some way to commence the operations intended by our coming West, i.e., to open up better communication with Chattanooga. But — may I say it?—for some reason, plans take more practical and active shape wherever Grant appears, and he almost never assumes the credit of their conception or of their execution. This was just the case at this time.


The descriptions of Chattanooga have been so often made that I will assume the reader to be already familiar with the place and its vicinage. The town and its rolling valley lay along a bend of the Tennessee, between Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. Thomas’s army held this valley on the south side. The enemy occupied the front and flanks of the position. A bridge of boats connected it with the north side of the river. Over this bridge all the supplies for the army of the Cumberland had to come.


On the 24th of October, Generals Grant and Thomas, and Thomas’s chief engineer, General W. H. Smith (army sobriquet “ Baldy ”), crossed the bridge and reconnoitred on the north side. Going over the intervening neck of land southward, they could see the Tennessee River below Lookout Mountain, and the entrance of Lookout Creek on the opposite shore. This stream runs between the Racoon Mountain and the lofty Lookout range, and forms the Lookout Valley. General Smith, in The Galaxy, lately, has a clear description of the army movements from Chattanooga that were coöperative with ours from below, and doubtless gives in substance the plans that were discussed by these three distinguished men during the reconnoissance I mention. He says, —

“ From the base of Lookout Mountain a low range of hills skirted the river between Lookout and Racoon mountains, connecting them. The Lookout Creek broke through these hills, near the mountain of that name, and lower down, two miles or more, another creek entered the river. Through the gorge thus formed ran a road to the river, over which had been established in former times what was called Brown’s Ferry. On the north or right bank of the river, the mountains and hills set back, leaving a wide valley. . . .

“ On the night of October 26th (two days after General Grant’s visit) a brigade under General Hazen embarked, and, drifting silently to Brown’s Ferry, landed, carried the gorge and Hills adjacent, and began intrenching themselves.

“ As soon as Hazen’s troops were disembarked the boats were used in ferrying over another brigade, which had marched to the north side of the ferry, and before ten o’clock in the morning of the 27th, the two brigades were strongly posted on the hills and a new bridge spanned the river behind them, thus connecting them with the army at Chattanooga and allowing any number of reenforcements to reach them within an hour.”

Now we will return to Hooker’s command. For some time we had been pushing out into the enemy’s country, across the Tennessee from Bridgeport, and already occupied Shell Mound, a station on the railroad about six miles above Bridgeport. General Hooker gave the advance to my command, strengthened by one company of the first Tennessee and another of the first Alabama cavalry.

The evening of the 27th, the day that Hazen was strengthening his position at the mouth of Lookout Valley, we encamped at Whitesides, distant ten or twelve miles. The next day Hooker’s column moved in the same general order as before. General Geary’s division of the twelfth corps followed my two divisions, Steinwehr’s and Schurz’s. The march was continued with scarcely an interruption, until we reached the neighborhood of Wauhatchie. About a mile south of that point scouts and cavalry were met by a fire from the enemy, who were concealed in the thick underbrush at the base of a spur which juts out from the ridge that extends along the Tennessee. This point is at the fork of the Brown’s Ferry and Chattanooga wagon road. A brisk skirmish ensued, when the enemy gave way. Five or six of our men, of Colonel Busbick’s brigade, were wounded. The scene was now peculiar and impressive. The troops were moving in the valley, apparently very close to Lookout Mountain. It appeared not more than three or four hundred yards to the top. The distance to the summit was doubtless greater than it seemed to be. We were in plain sight of Longstreet’s men, both those on the high table-land at the foot of the palisade and those above along the frowning crest; their signal flags were clearly visible. We had just passed the fork of the roads at Wauhatchie, toward Brown’s Ferry, when the batteries on the highest point of Lookout opened on us. First the smoke could be seen rolling out in curious volumes, and then would be heard the screaming of the shells, then the sound of their bursting low down in the valley. The echoes, mingling with the roaring of the guns, sounded and resounded in a way that reminded us of a similar entertainment at Gettysburg, but here for the most part the enemy’s artillerymen overshot us, so that but one man was killed and one wounded.

The meeting with Hazen’s men, who were strongly posted near the ferry, as I have indicated, and whom we did not at first recognize as on our side, though covering the low hills to our front with their waving flags and bright bayonets, was an unexpected and joyous event to us; and not less so to those so lately besieged. They called out a welcome with the usual loud cheers and shouts, as we came near, and they cried, “Hurrah! hurrah! you have opened up our bread line!” We encamped facing Lookout, the left near Hazen and the right extending toward Racoon Mountain. Geary with his one division was stopped by General Hooker at Wauhatchie, in order to cover a road that led thence southward to the Tennessee at Kelly’s Ferry. Longstreet, as we have seen, had kept an outpost on the river to watch and play upon the wagon road on the north side, and we were in hopes of catching his men there, in their attempt to regain their main lines. In fact, Wauhatchie was deemed an important point for securing the valley. General Hooker left Geary there, probably three miles from our position.


Perhaps an hour after midnight, in that country as yet all new to us, we were aroused by heavy artillery firing; soon the noise of musketry, with its unmistakable rattle, was mingling with the roaring cannon. Those ominous sounds seemed to come from the direction of Geary. I was hardly on my feet before Hooker’s message came, “ Hurry, or you cannot save Geary. He has been attacked.” Steinwehr was urged to hasten, but Schurz’s division being nearest and first under arms was pushed forward toward the sound, followed by the other division. As soon as the troops were in motion I went forward to General Hooker’s position, at a turn of the road a half-mile nearer Geary. Hooker and General Butterfield, who was then his chief-of-staff, were sitting on the slope of a hill with a camp-fire just starting. The night was chilly. Hooker seemed quite anxious, as might be expected. The issues of a night engagement under the best of circumstances are more than ordinarily uncertain, and our ignorance of the situation of the country and of the enemy’s position, taken up since nightfall, added to the uncertainty. The general was of opinion that we should secure the ridge of hills that ran along on our side of Lookout Creek as we moved toward Geary’s position. To this end orders were given. Then I said to General Hooker, “ With your approval, I will take the two companies of cavalry and push through to Wauhatchie.” He replied, “ All right, Howard ; I shall be here to attend to this part of the field.”

Soon after I had left, Orland Smith’s brigade of Steinwehr’s division swept up the wooded ridge near what was called Ellis’s house, and found the enemy intrenched or barricading as well as it could be done in the night and among the roots and rocks. My report says, “ The troops charged up the heights under heavy fire without returning it, until the enemy was completely routed. They took quite a number of arms and prisoners.”

General Schurz’s command was much delayed from one cause or another, the night, the low ground, the thick underbrush (for the command at first avoided the road, as being too much exposed to the ridge along whose foot it ran). Finally Schurz sent Tyndall’s brigade to clear the heights, from which he was annoyed by a fire upon his flank. This work was well done. Afterward the brigade of Colonel Hecker, whose name I never mention without a feeling of respect for his uniform loyalty and courage, made its way to Geary’s position. But long before Hecker’s arrival the work of Geary had been done.

An extract from the observation of a spectator among the Confederates will throw some light upon Longstreet’s intentions, matured into plans, as Longstreet saw “ during the afternoon the long, dark, thread-like line of troops become visible, slowly wending their way in the direction of Chattanooga.” He says, “ General Longstreet, . . . who from the peak had carefully watched the march of the eleventh corps, determined to make an attack for another purpose (not expecting now to hinder the main object of the movement), merely to capture, if possible, a large park of wagons and its escort, numbering, as was supposed, from fifteen hundred to two thousand men, who still remained in the rear. ”

This supposed escort was of course Geary’s division with his trains. After leaving General Hooker, with the two companies of horsemen, skirting the Racoon side of the rough valley, I reached General Geary at Wauhatchie by three or three and a half A. M. There was then light enough (it may have been only starlight) to see squads of men moving about in the comparatively open space just north of Wauhatchie. This we observed as we emerged from the bushes. The firing was all over and quiet reigned.

I called out to the strangers so dimlyseen , " Who goes there ? ” “ We are

Stevens’s men,” was the answer. Perceiving that they belonged to the enemy I said, ‘‘All right, have you whipped the Yankees? ” The same voice replied, “ We were on their flank, but our men in front have gone, and we cannot find our way.” My men then gradually. approached, revealed themselves, and took them prisoners, there being probably as many of them as of us.

I passed into the thicket and came first upon the tent of General George S. Green, then a brigade commander. He was sadly wounded in the face. After a moment’s delay for inquiry and sympathy, his officers conducted me to Geary, who was glad enough to see me. He had repulsed the enemy’s attack handsomely, using infantry and artillery. This was the place where the mules broke loose and in terror ran in squads through the enemy’s lines, and gave rise to the story told in verse, entitled The Charge of the Mule Brigade. Geary’s hand trembled, and his tall, strong frame shook with emotion, as he held me by the hand and spoke of the death of his son, during that fearful night. This son was Lieutenant Edward R. Geary, Battery F, Pennsylvania Light Artillery, killed at his battery during the action. In this way the soldier remembers that the exhilaration of victory was very often softened, or entirely quenched, by real grief over its cost, a cost that cannot be estimated !

Seeing Geary now secure in possession of the field, I hastened back to receive from General Butterfield an account of the complete success of Steinwehr and Schurz in routing the enemy’s checking forces, and driving all across the Lookout Creek. Many officers and men were killed and wounded during this blind struggle. Colonel Underwood, of the 33d Massachusetts volunteers, was desperately wounded, his wound supposed at the time to be mortal. He partially recovered, to be lame for life.

It surely conveys a wrong impression when General W. H. Smith says, in the article from which I have quoted, “ The valley between Lookout and Racoon mountains was thus securely held and the pass through the latter covened, from which, in the afternoon of the same day, Hooker, with the tenth and twelfth corps d’armées, debouched and went into camp in the valley without firing a shot.” He means the eleventh and twelfth corps. There was wounding and death in the afternoon, followed by the remarkable night engagement which I have just mentioned. As this was our opening work in the West, we were much pleased the next day, October 30, 1863, to receive the following complimentary notice from General George H. Thomas, directed to General Hooker: —

GENERAL, — I most heartily congratulate you, and the troops under your command, at the brilliant success you gained over your old adversary [Longstreet] on the night of the 28th ultimo. The bayonet charge of Howard’s troops, made up the side of a steep and difficult hill, over two hundred feet high, completely routing the enemy from his barricades on its top, and the repulse by Geary’s division of greatly superior numbers, who attempted to surprise him, will rank among the most distinguished feats of arms of this war. . . .

GEORGE H. THOMAS, Major-General Commanding.


The foregoing preparatory movements were introductory to the grand battle of Chattanooga, which itself embraces the action of the troops engaged in the neighborhood of Lookout Mountain and those more nearly connected with Missionary Ridge. There were three elements in the Union forces which were to operate, and four characters to control them: first, the Cumberland army; second, the troops from the East, that we have just traced to Lookout Valley; and third, the troops from the West (the fifteenth army corps). The first character (and a sound one indeed) was General George H. Thomas. He was feeding his troops, replenishing his supplies, refitting his artillery, bringing up his absentees, and getting ready for real work. The second character was General Hooker, nominally subordinate to Thomas, but from circumstances, perhaps, rather than plan, to play a part as prominent as would seem befitting him, judging from his well-known history as a “ fighting man.” The third was General W. T. Sherman. The people were learning to watch Sherman’s course with ever-increasing interest; there was a pathway of light wherever he moved, like the streaming, forceful burner at the head of a locomotive under full headway, disappearing in occasional valleys and reappearing around important headlands, but ever making real progress toward the grand destination. Of course the fourth was the new commander of the military division, General U. S. Grant. He had hardly set foot in Chattanooga before he telegraphed Halleck, “Please approve order placing Sherman in command department of Tennessee, with head - quarters in the field.” This request was granted. Then he turned toward Sherman, and sent a dispatch down the Tennessee, “ Drop everything at Bear Creek, and move towards Stevenson with your entire force, until you receive further orders.” The order did not reach Sherman till the 27th of October, the day Hazen was securing the stronghold at Brown’s Ferry, and we of the East were approaching the valley of Lookout. Sherman, as usual, instantly set to work to fulfill his instructions. With four divisions he reached Bridgeport with his head of column on the evening of the 13th of November.

At General Grant’s request, Sherman left his troops and hastened to Chattanooga for a personal interview with him. I was in Chattanooga when Sherman arrived, the evening of the 14th of November, and saw him and General Grant together. I was in the room when General Sherman entered. After a cordial greeting, Grant offered Sherman a cigar, which the latter took and lighted, talking continually in his peculiar, lively, and hearty style. Grant says, “ Take the chair of honor, Sherman,”pointing to an old-fashioned, high-backed rocking-chair. “ Oh no! that belongs to you, general.” Grant, showing that unfailing covert humor that always appears when there are no politicians present to annoy him, continues, “ I don’t forget, Sherman, to give proper respect to age.” “ Well, then, if you put it on that ground, I must accept.” So Sherman takes the high - backed chair and leads off in a most entertaining talk, bearing upon passing events. At this interview, casually referred to in his Memoirs, began my personal acquaintance with General Sherman. His character is written on his face and appears in his manner and conversation. He is above the medium height, stands erect, and carries a head capable of continuous study and thought, with a mind as acute as it is capacious. He has a voice that is sonorous, manly, and attractive, and a manner that secures your attention and wins your confidence. Introduce any topic, and Sherman is at home. His memory for detail strikes you at once as extraordinary, and his ability to carry with him the knowledge of places and localities long since seen shows a remarkable source of power at his command as an officer. His marked peculiarity in contrast with General Grant was a wonderful suggestive talent. He would draw up five plans of campaign to another man’s one, while General Grant would weigh the matter and select the best.

After the general plan of battle had been settled on, Sherman returned to his troops at Bridgeport, and marched them to us by the route of Hooker’s movement, already described. Owing to rains, bad roads, and the breaking of the bridge at Brown’s Ferry, it took till the 23d for Sherman to get three of his divisions into place, some three miles above Chattanooga, on the north bank of the Tennessee, near the mouth of the North Chickamauga. General Thomas reënforced him directly by the division of General Jeff. C. Davis, and indirectly by instructions to me to open communication with him and coëperate as soon as he had effected a crossing of the Tennessee. For, with a view of strengthening Thomas at Chattanooga and keeping the attention of the enemy during Sherman’s movements into position, I had been detached from General Hooker, marched early across the Brown’s Ferry bridge, and finally made to cross the other bridge into Chattanooga, and go into camp there near Fort Wood. This was in plain sight of Bragg’s position on Missionary Ridge.


On the 7th of November General Grant had given orders to General Thomas to attack Bragg, using the private horses of officers and taking such team horses as could be made available for the purpose of moving the artillery. But General Thomas advised against the movement in his crippled condition, so that it was postponed. On the 23d of November, the preparation for this battle not being yet completed, owing to rains, breakages in the bridges, and other incidents belonging of necessity to large combined movements, General Grant determined to make a reconnoissance instead of battle. In plain sight of the enemy, and displayed before Generals Grant and Thomas, and other officers gathered at Fort Wood, General Gordon Granger deployed one division of the fourth corps and supported it by his other two. This force, extended into line, presented a picture not often seen; the bayonets gleamed in the sunlight, the skirmishers sprang forward at proper intervals and covered the entire front, as alert and active as children at play. The fourteenth corps supported the right, and the eleventh, massed in close order, was ready in view to follow up on the left. “ Only a reconnoissance.” Nothing of that solid, slow, thoughtful, solemn entrance into battle of Sumner’s troops at Antietam, or French’s division on the second day at Chancellorsville, but a brisk, hearty, almost gay parade. The Confederates stood on their breastworks to look at our parade and drill, when our lines went forward with rapidity toward the Orchard Knob. No straggling, no falling out from suspicious exhaustion, no hiding behind stumps and trees at this time. Soon the enemy’s pickets were driven or taken, soon all those outward defenses for a mile ahead near the knob were in our hands; but not without bloodshed. Wood’s division alone lost over a hundred, killed and wounded. The fourth corps had done gallantly what was required, and the other troops were ready and anxious to execute any movement. General Grant, at Fort Wood, kept looking steadily toward the troops just engaged, and beyond. He was slowly smoking a cigar. General Thomas, using his glass attentively, made no remark. Rawlins (who was afterward Secretary of War) seemed to be unusually urgent in pressing his reasons into the general’s seemingly inattentive ear. He was heard to say, “ It will have a bad effect to let them come back and try it over again.” When General Grant spoke at last, without turning to look at anybody, he said, “ Intrench them and send up support. ” In a moment aids and orderlies were in motion. General Thomas sent messengers to Granger of the fourth, to Palmer of the fourteenth, and to me commanding the eleventh. Within a few minutes a new line of intrenchments was in process of construction, facing and parallel with Missionary Ridge, with Orchard Knob as a point of support. The batteries were soon covered against sharp-shooters and Stray shots of the enemy. I know I felt freer to breathe when I placed my feet on this little advanced hill, than I had done since entering the beleaguered Chattanooga. General Granger, always gay after an action began, was quite exhilarated by the prompt success of his movement, and was directing the fire of the battery when I arrived. He says, “ How are you, Howard? This looks like work.” Then, as he liked to bring his neighbors to duty, he adds: “ Your troops on the left have n’t squared up.” I entered a thicket to the left, and, finding my troops too much retired, went from brigade to brigade and dressed up the lines to Granger’s satisfaction. General Schurz, commanding the nearest division, disliking to be meddled with, declared that this movement would reopen the engagement, but the enemy had by this time vacated the whole line of Citico Creek, so that we of the eleventh — Germans, Irish, Hungarians, and Saxons — for once pleased our neighbors without loss or detriment. In fact, the better to clear our front of Confederate sharpshooters and skirmishers, General Steinwehr had just before, by my direction, sent the seventy-third Ohio across Citico Creek near its mouth, and marched it up in line nearly at right angles to our main front.

At the end of this skirmish, that was a cheerful party that gathered for a few minutes at Orchard Knob: Gordon Granger, Philip H. Sheridan, Absalom Baird, Thomas John Wood, Carl Schurz, and A. von Steinwehr. These had not yet attained the full stature of their reputation, but were such men, whether commanders or simple men, as one likes to be associated with in times of trial. Historians of this field have made detailed exhibits of their leadership and success. I cannot do so without too much extension, but I enjoy the mention of their names, and the recollection of the picture of a half-hour’s unpremeditated grouping on that 23d of November in this foreground of Chattanooga. The beginnings of real success are inspiriting.


While we were amusing Bragg, keeping him from sending more men against Burnside at Knoxville, or from running away, as Grant feared he intended to do, from his threat to assault and his preliminary humane warning to noncombatants, the Brown’s Ferry bridge that linked us to Hooker broke, leaving one of Sherman’s divisions (Osterhaus’s) over in Lookout Valley.

General Hooker, on the morning of the 24th, taking time by the forelock, reported to General Thomas, probably by the flag signal, as early as four A. M. , that he was ready to begin his movement. The burden of his instructions was a “ strong demonstration,” or to carry the point of the mountain, the latter to be done contingent upon the condition and strength of the enemy. This was just the latitude and contingency to suit the temper of Hooker, a general always ambitious and enterprising. He had now of his own troops Geary’s division, of Sherman’s, Osterhaus’s division (these belonged to the celebrated fifteenth corps, that were good anywhere to fight a battle, clean out a village, or forage liberally on a march), and Whitaker’s and Grose’s brigades of the fourth corps, making a division under General Cruft. Add Wildrick’s battery I, first New York artillery, and Heckman’s battery K, first Ohio, detailed from my corps. Geary with Whitaker joined to him, now five thousand strong, went back under cover of a thick fog (just the veil needed before the scenes open) to his old fighting place of Wauhatchie. He now turned abruptly to the left, crossed Lookout Creek, and pushed due east, as if to reach and ascend the western, awfully rugged, precipitous side of old Lookout. By eight o’clock he had surprised and seized the enemy’s picket line. As quickly as it could be done, Geary’s head of column, toiling up the foot-hills and the main steep, reached the foot of those perpendicular rocks which like palisades crown this lofty mountain. He faced his line toward the north and moved on over rocks round, pointed, and rolling, over elevations and depressions, past trees and through underbrush — rough pathways indeed for the men. Sweeping along with his right flank secure against an impassable barrier he rolled up the enemy’s line, which was doubtless quite unprepared for this flank assault.

Cruft, with his remaining brigade, cooperated with this movement at the bridge, not far from the mouth of Lookout Creek, and Osterhaus with Charles R. Wood’s brigade went in from an intermediate crossing, a half or three quarters of a mile higher up the creek. As Geary came on, these troops, which had kept the attention of the Confederates (particularly those near by and those on the nose of the mountain in their front), caught sight of the moving lines and rivaled them in charging and pursuing the now flying enemy. Batteries had been well located so as at first to distract attention. These now became most effective in increasing the adversary’s disorder and demoralization. We, who were upon the opposite side of the nose of Lookout Mountain, and who had heard the cannonading for hours, and occasionally the rattling of musketry, were deeply anxious, watching every sign. The Confederates were driven from every advanced position, and what I have called the nose of the mountain was taken quite early in the afternoon. As the fog and clouds slowly lifted, we could see the flashes and smoke of the guns and shells that exploded, and catch glimpses of flags, bayonets, and men in motion toward us; so that, as there were masses of dark clouds still hanging against the nose of Lookout Mountain lower down, General Meigs, who was present, did not exaggerate when he wrote that day of “ the battle above the clouds.”

At dark the troops seemed still contending, but we knew it was Bragg’s desperate effort at retreat to save men and material, and keep open the only road of escape (the Summertown) for his troops still on the summit. The next morning our flags appeared from the highest point, and our signals gayly waved their talk to their companion signals in Chattanooga.

Bragg had lost his left, and of course concentrated his command on the next mountain ridge, where his main line had been so long facing the imperturbable Thomas along the crest of Missionary Ridge. This is a continuous ridge with transverse spurs which stretched out in a long line as a barrier to our advance east or south, not so frowning and formidable in appearance as Lookout, but worse indeed with an army upon it.

A glorious victory, this of the 24th of November! No envy yet, no exaggerations; a cheerful hurrah courses along our lines. All honor to “ fighting Joe Hooker,” all honor to Grant, the quiet leader who plans and executes, and dares say “Forward, march!” in the nick of time, when other men are apt to flag, halt, and fail.


Now for Sherman. Full of nerve and energy, with a spirit, that knows no discouragement, and true to the core, he bends only to circumstances, necessities, events which I like to believe are under the rule of Providence. He cannot have his fourth division, but he cheerily goes on with the rest of the fifteenth corps, reënforced by General Jeff. C. Davis’s excellent division, taken from the army of Thomas. When Hooker commenced his grand movement early in the morning of the 24th, the bridge boats, which were launched at midnight seven or eight miles above Chattanooga, could be seen, just as the dawn of day appeared, opposite the mouth of the South Chickamauga. Sherman’s men were some of them already across the river (here the river is more than twelve hundred feet wide), some were being ferried over, and the larger portion in waiting for the completion of the pontoon bridge, which was slowly and steadily putting itself out, like two floating docks, from either bank. The little home-made steamer from Chattanooga came up to lend its aid to Sherman, as soon as it was safe to do so. When Sherman had captured the enemy’s pickets and drawn one division across, he ordered that semicircular line of trenches, convex toward the end of Missionary Ridge, which covered the bridge builders against annoyance from sharp-shooters and against assault.

My first part was to open communication with Sherman. It is not a nice feeling, to know or suspect that an enterprising enemy lies between your detachment and the main body. Grant provided against this discouragement for Sherman. He directed Thomas, and Thomas directed me, and I directed Steinwehr to send Bushbick with his brigade (supported by Krizanouski’s brigade), and covered by one of the eleventh corps batteries (Wheeler’s), over the river, adding a company of cavalry. These troops were to proceed by the river’s bank, on the enemy’s side of the river, from our position already named on Citico Creek to Sherman’s bridge, several miles above. In order to see this ground, and to be ready to cooperate with Sherman with my remaining troops, if necessary, I concluded to accompany Bushbick’s command.

We met very little resistance and no organized troops of the enemy; there was some lively skirmishing on our right. About half past ten, while Hooker was storming Bragg’s left, I stood on the south and Sherman on the north projection of his bridge, which was steadily growing toward a junction. As the last boat was put in, we were conversing, and before the gap was quite closed, General Sherman sprang across, and we joined hands. I think this was the first time Sherman and I had more than a passing acquaintance. He asked if I would leave my brigade with him, so as to extend his right flank and make more speedy connection with Thomas than at Orchard Knob, as all advanced. I assented at once. He explained the position, and his intended forward movements just as soon as the troops should be over the bridge, with that frank, hearty confidence of manner that attached me to him. I now turned back with my cavalry escort to join my corps and report progress. General Sherman moved as he had told me, sweeping up the gentle slopes for a mile or more, till he struck the rougher portions of the ridge. He was not heavily resisted till, having skirmished over two rugged knobs, he came to the first prominence north of the railroad tunnel. There are more transverse ravines and spurs on this rocky wooded ridge than appeared before the trial to our observation and study with glasses. Bragg’s right, Cleburn’s (familiarly called “Pat Cleburn ”) division, was strongly posted. Trees, big stones, and logs arranged as barricades, and unapproachable crags in front, made it almost inaccessible. Add to this Cleburn’s brave men in plenty, with large guns and small ones at command, and it is easily conceived that it would be no holiday operation for Sherman to make a successful advance and assault, after he had actually struck the end of Bragg’s line. Night, which brought out the bright flashes of Hooker’s skirmishers on the east side of Lookout, brought to view also to Grant and Thomas, at Chattanooga, Sherman’s camp-fires on the crest of Mission Ridge, in close proximity to the stubborn enemy.


The reconnoissance of Thomas on the 23d, resulting in the brisk skirmish and taking of the outer line of Bragg’s position at Orchard Knob, was a successful move against his centre. The “demonstration ” and contingent attack of Hooker on the 24th resulted in a grand battle and dislodgment of Bragg’s entire left. The well-planned and nicely-executed flank movement of Sherman had really taken “ the bull by the horns,’’ developed extraordinary resistance, and showed to all of us that there was tough work yet to be done. Sherman renewed his attack early in the morning of the 25th. He sent Corse’s division forward on his right, Morgan L. Smith’s on the left of the ridge. He used the brigade of Bushbick’s that I had brought him. John E. Smith and Loomis were brought up to the attack. These brave men gained some ground, and barricaded, but with heavy loss, there being many wounded and many killed. They held what they could, but the struggle against a resolute enemy so well posted was too unequal a contest for any considerable success here.

Grant had moved his own position from Fort Wood to Orchard Knob, and had a fair view of these movements. He directed me at 9.45 A. M. to go at once and reënforce General Sherman. When I reached Sherman’s bridge, Colonel Meizenburg brought word from Sherman to place my corps on his left flank, extending his line down the rough eastern slope of Missionary Ridge to the crooked Chickamauga Creek. General Hardee, who commanded Bragg’s right wing, extended his line constantly to confront ours. He renewed the desperate contest, but with little direct, though doubtless with a very positive indirect effect. As Grant kept reënforcing Sherman, Bragg’s attention was absorbed by that flank, and he doubtless put every man he dared spare from elsewhere, to help resist this persevering onslaught. At any rate, all the morning, from sunrise, we had seen gray soldiers moving thitherward. General Breckenridge, who commanded Bragg’s left wing, confronted Hooker’s advance upon his left flank by a small checking force, that gave way after General Hooker had rebuilt the bridge across the Chickamauga, and crossed over, not far from Rossville, to the attack.

When Hooker, chafed and hindered by streams impassable except by bridging, had at last advanced well on toward the crest of Missionary Ridge, far south of Bragg’s actual left flank, and the enemy’s attention was divided between the dogged attacks of Sherman’s men on the north and the sure approach of Hooker from the south, General Grant took this time in the afternoon (it might be four o’clock) to order the firing of six cannon shot, near his own position, as a signal for the long waiting but never impatient Thomas to push forward his divisions and seize the rifle-pits at the base of the ridge. As in all the other great battles, the artillery, from its various available points, almost simultaneously opened upon the enemy’s troops, as if to clear the way and make paths for a safer advance (a doubtful measure with old troops, as it merely says, “ Enemy, get ready; we are coming”). The divisions of Baird, T. J. Wood, Sheridan, and Johnson (probably thirty thousand effectives in all) spring forward in line over the rough ground, through the underbrush, now appearing, now disappearing, to come again in sight, flags flying, bayonets glistening, musketry rattling, cannon roaring, like Pickett’s gallant advance at Gettysburg against the terrible Cemetery Ridge. Such was the handsome and rapid movement straight up to the enemy’s lower line of rifle - pits. On this event the aroused Thomas reports, —

“ Our troops advancing steadily in a continuous line, the enemy, seized with panic, abandoned the works at the foot of the hill, and retreated precipitately to the crest, whither they were closely followed by our troops, who, apparently inspired by the impulse of victory, carried the hill simultaneously at six different points, and so closely upon the heels of the enemy that many of them were taken prisoners in the trenches.”

General Grant speaks like a diligent and friendly observer under some excitement: “ These troops moved forward, drove the enemy from the rifle-pits at the base of the ridge like bees from a hive, stopped but a moment until the whole were in line, and commenced the ascent of the mountain from right to left, almost simultaneously, following closely the retreating enemy without further orders. They encountered a fearful volley of grape and canister from near thirty pieces of artillery, and musketry from still well-filled rifle-pits on the summit of the ridge. Not a waver, however, was seen in all that long line of brave men.”

This Grant and Thomas beheld from their commanding post of observation. The enemy fly up the ridge without stop ping to re-form. With no particular namable formation, in squads, with flags now drooping, now fallen, again uplifted, the men, with no more orders, followed by their officers, move on up, up the ridge. Batteries upon the crest bear upon them, and burst the shells over their heads, and cross musketry-fire from the rifle trenches on the heights kills some and wounds others, but our men do not stop until they have fully crowned the summit of this angry mountain and turned the enemy’s guns to fire in another direction, upon his own fragments.

The enemy gave way all along the line as the victorious columns of Hooker joined Sheridan’s right flank, the last to let go and the hardest to beat being Cleburn’s division (which seemed to partake of that Irishman’s stubborn nature). This same division, lying in ambush, subsequently met our troops at Taylor’s Ridge and gave a bloody revenge for its discomfiture at Missionary Ridge, and put a damper on Hooker’s glory, so lately won. It was the 25th of November, late in the season, so that night came on soon after Thomas’s men had reached the crest and had gotten into respectable order. Sherman’s troops saw nothing of this grand work until it was nearly over, and then they pushed in as far as the Chickamauga. From this it will be seen why a quick, close, and continuous pursuit was not made. Sheridan, always on hand and ardent, did go on into the dark as far as Mission Mills. Guns were captured, prisoners and small arms and flags were gathered up from all quarters, but very soon the night shut down upon the joyful and victorious troops.

After the cheerings, after the exciting recitals around the camp-fires, while the soldiers are quiet and sleeping beneath the silent stars, the slow-moving ambulances with their escorts of drummers and fifers and musicians (no music now) go sorrowfully over the field (it is a rough one and extensive), to gather up the wounded and bring them to the field hospital. Then the indefatigable surgeons and assistant-stewards keep up their benevolent though sad and bloody work for the entire night. Friend and foe are here treated alike. To delicate nerves all this, — the pain, the blood, the bandages, the poorly-suppressed groan, and the ever - recurring struggles of the dying, — all this is simply terrible, horrible, yet the weary soldiers who are unhurt are oblivious to it all; the ground is covered with them, sleeping and dreaming of triumphs won and home scenes now nearer.

But the officer of rank, whose brain must be busy with plans for the morrow, the watchful aids and orderlies who go and come with instructions and messages, and those who are connected with the medical corps, are obliged to hear these cries of pain, and witness these torchlight scenes that take hold on eternity, and make impressions too deep for human language against the arbitrament of war.

After the last charge, four stout men carried a sergeant to the rear. They stopped to rest. E. P. Smith, then of the Christian Commission, drew near the stretcher, and speaking kindly, asked, “ Where are you hurt, sergeant? ” He answers, “Almost up, sir.” “I mean in what part are you injured?” He fixes his eye on the speaker, and answers again, “Almost up to the top.” Just then Mr. Smith uncovers his arm, and sees the frightful shattering wound of the shell that struck him. “Yes,” he says, turning his eye thither, “that’s what did it. I was almost up; but for that, I should have reached the top.” The sergeant was bearing the flag when he was hit. He died with the fainter and fainter utterance of “Almost up,” while his companions on the heights he almost reached were echoing the cheers of the triumph that he would so much have enjoyed. It is comforting to hope that his faithful spirit reached the crest of higher battlements than those which the living victors that day attained.


By five A. M. on the morrow (November 26th) my corps was on the march, following General J. C. Davis’s division across the Chickamauga pontoon in pursuit. Davis led, coming upon the skirmishers of Bragg’s rear guard just beyond Chickamauga station. Sherman and I were together much of that day, admiring the complete and soldierly manner in which Jeff. C. Davis handled his troops; he kept up a good line, well supported in rear, and well covered by skirmishers in front, preventing attempts at mischief by the enemy, which are always frequent during retreat. Just at night we had a sharp and successful combat at Graysville, engaging both Davis’s troops and mine. It was of brief duration.

I stayed at a house where there was a large family of poor people, much terrified. They had torn up the floor (there being no cellar), to get down as low as possible, made barricades of mattresses and other bedding, and were not a little relieved when the heavy guns had ceased to roar, the sharp musketry had stopped, and our friendly faces gave them hope that their last day had not yet come.

The next day, the 27th, while Hooker was fighting Cleburn at the Ringgold Gap of Taylor’s Ridge, I passed through Parker’s Gap, farther north, sent forward and broke three miles of the Cleveland and Dalton Railroad, and drew my men back into camp near Taylor’s Ridge, having taken quite a number of prisoners, one of whom was an officer bearing dispatches from Longstreet to Bragg.


At the end of this day General Grant checked his pursuit of Bragg, and sent Sherman, attaching my corps to his command, to the relief of Burnside at Knoxville. It will be remembered how closely Longstreet invested him there, and how anxious our people were for his safety.

With few wagons, hardly any tents, — just enough for the scribes, — no bridge trains, scarcely any rations, wearied with the three days’ fighting and two days’ vigorous pursuit, my corps never grumbled. We marched to Louisville, within one day’s journey of Knoxville, the troops resting a day, while several of our officers, myself included, accompanied Sherman to congratulate Burnside that Longstreet had failed in his assault and been quickened in his steps Virginia - ward by our near approach. Sherman left Granger with the fourth corps in Burnside’s neighborhood, and then we turned back. Did n’t our engineers work! We gave them plenty of help, however, bridging the Hiawassee and the Little Tennessee. A bridge of half-destroyed, abandoned Confederate wagons, which were roughly repaired and dragged six miles from Loudon, was made at the ford. It was one thousand feet long and was put into the stream between sunset and sunrise. The men were crossing, dry, and smoking their pipes and joking, as the sun was appearing in the east. We turned back, retracing the same route, and the 17th of December went into winter quarters at our old camp in Lookout Valley, having made a march up and back of two hundred and forty miles. What results from this sturdy work of twenty-five days since the first advance on Orchard Knob, the 23d of November!

The poor, suffering besieged, reënforced from east and west, had beaten the besiegers, gained Lookout Mountain and Mission Ridge, and driven Bragg’s army beyond Taylor’s Ridge, with a loss to him of at least 10,000 men, gaining in morale far more than in numbers. The victorious army, capturing between 6000 and 7000 prisoners, 40 pieces of artillery, 69 artillery carriages, and 7000 stand of small arms, breaking up connection between Bragg and Longstreet, had forced the one southward and the other northward, compelling the latter to cease harassing Burnside, and had really made a large breach in the enemy’s grand strategic line of armies, and splendidly prepared the way for Sherman’s even more brilliant ensuing spring campaign.

It is difficult to get at accurate numbers, or even fair estimates. Probably after we were ready for battle, Hooker’s wing had 10,000 effectives, Sherman’s, including my corps and Davis’s division, at least 30,000, and Thomas, at the centre, about the same number of men. Colonel Long, with a small body of cavalry, had operated between us and Cleveland during the battle, destroying Tyner’s Station, and taking 200 prisoners and 100 wagons at or near Cleveland.

It is not likely that Bragg, after Longstreet had been detached, had more than 40,000 effective troops, but he had vastly the advantage of natural positions, and they were well fortified. It was Grant’s purpose to concentrate superior numbers. It was always the true way against an enemy so much like us in skill, courage, and warlike appliances, such as the splitting of a common country would certainly provide. Our loss, 757 killed, 4529 wounded, and 330 missing, aggregating 5616, was relatively large, but it was caused by our being obliged to attack positions of great natural strength and the best kind of artificial protection, in the way of intrenchments and breastworks.

Gradually the work done by our great soldiers, Grant, Sherman, and Thomas, and other helpers, is passing into history. Just now it seems almost a shame to have lived to mingle in these times. Those who sought the nation’s life are becoming its rulers, but our Union heroes have a proud satisfaction in knowing that they were the direct means of killing secession, state supremacy, and slavery in America, and that it is only the enlarged generosity of the victors that, has lifted up the vanquished into the higher position of power.

O. O. Howard.