From November 23 to November 25, 1863, during the American Civil War (1861-65), Union forces routed Confederate troops in Tennessee at the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, known collectively as the Battles for Chattanooga. The victories forced the Confederates back into Georgia, ending the siege of the vital railroad junction of Chattanooga, and paving the way for Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta campaign and march to Savannah, Georgia, in 1864.
Battles For Chattanooga: Background
After the Confederate victory at Chickamauga in northwest Georgia in September 1863, the Union army retreated to the vital railroad junction of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Confederate General Braxton Bragg (1817-76) quickly laid siege to the city, cutting off access to Union supplies. In response, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) ordered Major General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) to Chattanooga. Grant, who arrived in October, soon refortified the city, opening up a desperately needed supply line, and began maneuvers to lift the siege.
Battles For Chattanooga: November 23-25, 1863
The Battle of Chattanooga was launched on November 23 when Grant sent General Thomas (1816-70, who was dubbed the Rock of Chickamauga for standing his ground against the Confederates at the Battle of Chickamauga) to probe the center of the Confederate line. This simple plan turned into a complete victory, when the Yankees captured Orchard Knob and the Rebels retreated higher up Missionary Ridge. On November 24, the Yankees under Major General Joseph Hooker (1814-79) captured Lookout Mountain on the extreme right of the Union lines, and this set the stage for the Battle of Missionary Ridge.
The attack took place in three parts. On the Union left, General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-91) attacked troops under Patrick Cleburne (1828-64) at Tunnel Hill, an extension of Missionary Ridge. In difficult fighting, Cleburne managed to hold the hill. On the other end of the Union lines, Hooker was advancing slowly from Lookout Mountain, and his force had little impact on the battle. It was at the center that the Union achieved its greatest success. The soldiers on both sides received confusing orders. Some Union troops thought they were only supposed to take the rifle pits at the base of the ridge, while others understood that they were to advance to the top. Some of the Confederates heard that they were to hold the pits, while others thought they were to retreat to the top of Missionary Ridge. Furthermore, poor placement of Confederate trenches on the top of the ridge made it difficult to fire at the advancing Union troops without hitting their own men, who were retreating from the rifle pits.
The result was that the attack on the Confederate center turned into a major Union victory. After the center collapsed, the Confederate troops retreated on November 26 and Bragg pulled his troops away from Chattanooga. He resigned shortly thereafter, having lost the confidence of his army.
Battles For Chattanooga: Aftermath
The Union suffered an estimated 5,800 casualties during the Battle of Chattanooga, while the Confederates’ casualties numbered around 6,600. Grant missed an opportunity to destroy the Confederate army when he chose not to pursue the retreating Rebels, but Chattanooga was secured. Sherman resumed the attack in the spring after Grant was promoted to general in chief of all Federal forces. Sherman’s troops captured Atlanta in early September 1864 and in November embarked on the so-called March to the Sea, which concluded with the occupation of the port of Savannah in late December.