The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – November 18-24, and some of the 25th, 1863

Here’s a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago.

I generally avoid getting into maps, topography and details of individual battles, but the events this week at Chattanooga will be driven more by human impulse and circumstances than by strategy. You’ll understand the miracle better if you see the overall layout of the land.

Chattanooga battle lines

This image is from source 10, below, with the following legend: “BATTLES FOR CHATTANOOGA: This map, drawn soon afterwards, shows Grant’s and Bragg’s respective lines through the three days of conflict: it illustrates the original positions of Thomas in Grant’s center; Sherman on his left, and Hooker on his right. Orchard Knob, or Hill, is in the map’s center; Tunnel Hill, where the Chattanooga & Knoxville Railroad passes through Missionary Ridge, is in the upper right quadrant; Lookout Mountain is in the bottom left quadrant; and Bragg’s troops are spread from Lookout Mountain up Missionary Ridge from Rossville nearly to Tunnel Hill.”

Confederate forces have kept US troops trapped in that city since the battle of Chickamauga back in September. The Federals are desperate. They’re still starving and running out of clothing and other supplies (the “cracker line” only recently opened up and it can’t quickly handle the massive transports such an army needs).

Nonetheless, General Grant is now in charge – besieged rather than the besieger he had been at Vicksburg earlier in the year – and Grant intends to attack.

General William P. Sanders  (Wikipedia)

General William P. Sanders (Wikipedia)

November 18

Military Events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville: After a day of intense fighting – one Confederate leader said the enemy “fought more desperately than we ever knew him to fight before” – the defensive line west of Knoxville commanded by US General William Sanders is driven back. General Sanders is shot and killed during the battle. Meanwhile back at Knoxville, by evening the city’s defenders have completed an encircling defensive trench and turned old Fort Loudon (later in the day renamed Fort Sanders after that general’s death) into “a respectable bastioned work.” However, with the assignment of a large sector to General Wheeler’s cavalry, General Longstreet now controls the roads into Knoxville. Burnside has ordered a Federal column that is outside the city to move into Cumberland Gap to secure communication with Camp Nelson, in Kentucky. (17, including quotes)

Gulf Operations: “As a part of the continuing operations along the Louisiana coast, Union gunboats were frequently under fire from Confederate artillery batteries ashore. One such back-and-forth battle took place at Hog Point, along the Mississippi-Louisiana border, today. Combatants were Captain Thomas A. Faries, Confederate States Army, on land, and the officers and men of the USS Choctaw out to sea. Sailing passed the redoubt the Choctaw fired her bow (front), stern (rear) and side guns, enfilading the shore battery. The extent of damage inflicted was not known, as landing parties were not sent ashore. While all this was going on the Choctaw’s sister ships, USS Franklin and Carondelet, simply stood by and observed.” (9, including quote)

November 19

Military Events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville: General Longstreet brings his entire force as close as possible to the Union defensive perimeter, but he’s facing a dilemma. It’s not a traditional siege because the defenders can communicate with the outside world and have an uninterrupted, if meager, food supply thanks to local Unionists south of the city and Longstreet’s unfamiliarity with the geography there. Longstreet can ill afford to undertake the sort of sapping and mining operations that Grant employed at Vicksburg earlier in the year, and yet the outcome of an assault on the city is uncertain. Both sides have roughly the same number of troops (12,000), but Burnside has more artillery. As for the citizens, allegiances are divided. Many prominent Unionists have fled into town and are assisting the defense, while others supportive of the Confederacy gladly welcome the men in gray where they can. The city’s infrastructure greatly suffers from the presence of an entire army.

Confederates start shelling the city on the 19th, especially Fort Sanders. Skirmishes, sorties and small fights become a daily and sometimes nightly occurrence. (17)

Other: At the dedication of a new National Cemetery, US President Lincoln delivers a speech he calls, immediately afterward, a failure. (6) “His voice, often described as thin and reedy, was not a match for Everett’s. Some in the crowd, unable to hear, pushed forward, or complained that Lincoln should speak louder. About the time they got within earshot, Lincoln sat down again. Newspaper reviews the next day were mixed. Lincoln, who had left a gravely ill child and very nervous wife back in Washington, and who was not feeling very well himself, headed at once for the train station and home.” (9, including quote)
 


 

Lincoln, by the way, goes home with a case of varioloid smallpox and will be in half-quarantine at the White House for nearly three weeks. (5) According to this source, there are fears that Vice President Hamlin “could not step into Mr. Lincoln’s shoes, and something of inestimable value would be lost to the country, even if Mr. Hamlin were twice as large a man as he is believed to be.” Efforts are made to protect the sick president from intruders but Lincoln continues to attend to daily business and even makes jokes about his illness: “Now I have something I can give everybody!” (5)

November 20

Military Events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville: Confederate artillery fire forces General Burnside to relocate his headquarters. Civilian houses as well as military targets are hit during the shelling. Skirmishes, sorties and small fights continue. (17)

Siege of Charleston, South Carolina: Heavy bombardment of Fort Sumter begins again. (6)

November 21

Military Events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Chattanooga: The slow movement of General Sherman’s troops from Bridgeport to Chattanooga forces General Grant to put off a planned attack today on General Bragg’s forces. (10)

Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville: Skirmishes, sorties and small fights continue. General Bragg informs Longstreet that Grant will soon advance at Chattanooga and urges Longstreet to finish up at Knoxville and return as quickly as possible. Longstreet orders a night attack on Fort Sanders for the 22nd, but cancels it in favor of a later attack during the daytime after brigade commanders say they don’t think it will be possible to control the men in the dark.(17)

Wikipedia

Knoxville’s defenses. (Wikipedia)

Siege of Charleston, South Carolina: Heavy bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (6)

November 22

Military Events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Chattanooga: The slow movement of General Sherman’s troops from Bridgeport to Chattanooga forces General Grant to put off another planned attack on General Bragg’s forces. (10)

Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville: Confederate shelling damages military targets and civilian houses. Skirmishes, sorties and small fights continue. No one knows how long the siege will last, and few troops have adequate cold-weather clothing. General Bragg tells Longstreet that Grant may be sending reinforcements to Burnside, and it’s up to Longstreet to stop them. Longstreet orders General Wheeler to leave one cavalry brigade at Knoxville and take the remainder of his two divisions to Kingston, where Federal troops remain that were bypassed when the southern army first crossed the river. Early demonstrations against Kingston have given the Confederate commanders the mistaken opinion that it’s relatively lightly guarded – there are actually four US infantry regiments and an artillery at Kingston and they’ve got high ground. (17)

Siege of Charleston, South Carolina: Heavy bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (6)

Gulf Blockade Operations: The USS Aroostook captures the schooner Eureka, which has slipped out of the Brazos River laden with cotton for delivery to Havana. (8)

November 23

Military Events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Chattanooga (source 10): General Grant, worried that General Bragg may be moving out to reinforce Longstreet at Knoxville, orders a reconnaissance in force against the Confederate right-center on Orchard Knob at Missionary Ridge. The word among US troops is that their newly arrived general considers the Army of the Cumberland spineless, and to prove otherwise, they go a little overboard.

Orchard Knob, circa 1902.  (Library of Congress)

Orchard Knob, circa 1902. (Library of Congress)

Some 8,000 infantry troops, flanked by two more divisions, form a line nearly two miles long. Confederates watching from Missionary Ridge think it’s a huge review in Grant’s honor until the Yankees start advancing at the double quick. Some 14,000 men quickly overwhelm the 600 Confederate pickets on Orchard Knob, and after the initial surprise, Grant orders them to entrench and hold while he sends in support.

Both US and CS commanders think Lookout Mountain’s natural defenses are so formidable it can be defended by only a handful of men. General Bragg therefore shifts all but a brigade away from the mountain to meet the Federal offensive. However, General Thomas, one of Grant’s advisers, thinks Lookout Mountain can be taken, and if so, Rossville can be reached and Bragg flanked off Missionary Ridge.

Weather and flooding today prevent Sherman from bringing in his full force to aid Grant in taking the primary target – the crucial railroad tunnel through Missionary Ridge at Tunnel Hill, north of Chattanooga – so Grant, who is also under constant pressure from Washington to relieve Burnside in Knoxville, agrees to Thomas’s plan. He orders Sherman’s division that has been kept from crossing the river at Brown’s Ferry to instead link up with General Hooker, who is ordered to make feint at Lookout Mountain – if it goes well, he has permission to take it. Thanks to the lay of the land, Hooker’s three divisions can approach the mountain out of sight of the main Confederate force. Grant hopes Bragg will think this additional division has either gone off toward Knoxville or is heading toward Tunnel Hill. (10)

Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville (source 17): General Wheeler moves out with 14 cavalry regiments, bound for Kingston. Back at Knoxville, during an intense but small skirmish, defenders decide to burn all the buildings at the rail depot, unaware that there is a lot of condemned ammunition is stored there. The resulting “terrifically grand” explosions light up the night so powerfully people can see church spires half a mile away. Confederates put out some of the fires, but 32 buildings and homes are lost. General Longstreet also moves some artillery to a bluff south of time for more fire on Fort Sanders and to enfilade US troops between the river and fort. He also orders two infantry brigades there in support. (17, including quote)

Siege of Charleston, South Carolina: Heavy bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (6)

November 24

Military Events: Virginia operations: General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia are setting up winter quarters behind the Rapidan River when a scout brings word that General Meade and the Army of the Potomac are getting ready to move. (21)

Military Events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Chattanooga (source 10): Starting at midnight, Sherman starts cautiously moving his men toward Tunnel Hill. It takes them until the afternoon to get into position. Sherman hasn’t reconnoitered. He is unaware that Tunnel Hill is in fact undefended and his men are in the wrong position. Now warned, the Confederates reinforce Tunnel Hill and open artillery fire on the US soldiers. However, Bragg thinks this might be a massive diversion and so only sends out a brigade, keeping the rest of that division in reserve until Sherman advances. Then Sherman digs in for the night.

The Craven house in 1902.  (Library of Congress)

The Craven house in 1902. (Library of Congress)

Meanwhile, near Lookout Mountain, three divisions are in position by 9:45 a.m., engaging two Confederate brigades near the Craven farm at 10:30 in the Battle Above the Clouds, and by afternoon are moving up the mountain’s steep eastern slope. The men are moving up through fog, up trails that only allow two men at a time to march abreast. Fearing Confederate reinforcements, Hooker orders a halt, but the men keep going, and Hooker eventually is okay with that and orders them to dig in at around 4 p.m. This night, Federal campfires burn on Lookout Mountain’s slopes, cheering their comrades dug in to the north. (10)

Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville (source 17): Skirmishes, sorties and small to moderate fights continue. Union skirmishers reclaim the ruined depot area and salvage some workable tools. Grant gets word to Burnside, through the Federal force in the Cumberland Gap under General Orlando Willcox, that the Chattanooga offensive has been launched.

Willcox, who has been under constant pressure from Washington to help relieve Knoxville while under direct orders from Burnside to hold the Gap and keep communication lines open, decides to move out and threaten Longstreet’s rear.

Wheeler’s cavalry arrives at Kingston around 3 a.m., but they are short on food and sleep. About an hour before dawn, they meet Union pickets and drive them back to the main defensive line. An artillery duel results, and then around noon, because of the strength of the defender’s position, Wheeler decides to withdraw. In the meantime, General Bragg has ordered him back to Chattanooga, so Wheeler turns over command to General William Martin and heads south while the cavalry returns back to Knoxville. (17)

Siege of Charleston, South Carolina: Heavy bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (6)

Other: A Philadelphia newspaper nominates Lincoln for president in 1864. (5)

November 25

Military Events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Chattanooga (source 10): Missionary Ridge. Confederate forces are massing at the ridge, after burning the bridge across the Chattanooga Creek between the ridge and Lookout Mountain. General Hooker plants the Stars and Stripes on top of the mountain, leaves two regiments there and moves the rest of men toward Missionary Ridge, though they have to stop and rebuild the Chattanooga Creek bridge.

To the north, Sherman’s men – who have been up all night digging to fortify their position and move cannon into place – are ordered to attack two hours after dawn. It’s more of a feint, with Sherman using just two brigades and keeping the other seven at his disposal in reserve. With Sherman in trouble, Grant orders an advance to take the rifle pits at the base of the ridge. The Army of the Cumberland isn’t at all happy about it, thinking it’s a suicide mission, but they move forward at around 4 p.m.

Hooker still has not crossed Chattanooga Creek and Sherman’s useless efforts to take Tunnel Hill have stopped.

Missionary Ridge, by A. R. Waud (Library of Congress)

Missionary Ridge, by A. R. Waud (Library of Congress)

The Federals are protected by cover in their advance until the last quarter mile, when Confederate artillery opens up on them. However, the cannons can’t be depressed low enough to hit them, and the artillery fire does little damage. The Federals charge.

Watching from Orchard Knob, Grant shouts at his advisers.

“Thomas, who ordered those men up the ridge?”

“I don’t know. I did not.”

“Did you order them up, Granger?”

“No, they started without orders,” Granger said. “When those fellows get started, all hell can’t stop them.”

“Well,” Grant growled, “somebody will suffer if they don’t stay there.”

The advancing Federal troops, feeling that “[o]ur only hope was the charge the hill,” not only stay there, they sweep up the ridge and take it. It’s not yet 5:30. The entire assault has taken less than 90 minutes. Charles Dana, an observer there on orders from Washington, calls it “one of the greatest miracles in military history.” (10, including quotes)

(November 25th will be continued next week.)

The Miracle - Missionary Ridge, November 25, 1863.  (Library of Congress - it's an ad, there wasn't a harvesting machine there)

The Miracle – Missionary Ridge, November 25, 1863. (Library of Congress. It’s an ad, by the way – there wasn’t a harvesting machine there.)

Sources:

(1)  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

(2)  Morgan’s Raiders.

(3)  Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).

(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).

(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(6) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(7)  Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(8) The Western Gulf Blockade.  BrownWaterNavy.org.

(9) Civil War Interactive.

(10) Born to Battle: Grant and Forrest: Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga: The Campaigns That Doomed the Confederacy, Jack Hurst (2012).

(11) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).

(12) Captain Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama, US Naval Historical Center.

(13) This Week in the Civil War.

(14) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)

(15) Friends of the Hunley.

(16) CWSAC Battle Summaries

(17) The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee, Earl J. Hess (2012) [Note: The dating is difficult to follow in this source, though it’s excellent for details…Barb]

(18) The CSS Alabama’s Indian Ocean Expeditionary Raid (Wikipedia).

(19) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.

(20) March to the relief of Knoxville. (PDF)

(21) Battle of Mine Run.



Categories: American Civil War

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