G. C Kniffin.

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IVTilitary Qrder



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XJi^ited ^tates



COMMANDERY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.



Mi%>Mn>^r



WAR PAPER 37.



^I^e Qrnqu of tlie (^un^berland at
issionarti ^idge.






Military ©rder of \\}q 190\;g\1 l9$^ion



United ^fates.



dOMMAWDEI^V OF THE DI^TI^IdT DF (JOLUIV|Bli\.



WAR PAPERS.



37

^hz ^iT^rmy of the (Xumberland at 3Vti - ioaary I^icLge.

PREPARED BY COMPANION

Lieutenant-Colonel •'

GILBERT C. KNIFFIN,

Late U. S. V.



READ AT THE STATED MEETING OF DECEMBER 5, 1900



September, unites with the eastern l>ranch at a point a few
miles east of Rossville. The stream threads its way tlirough
the valley east of Missionary Ridge, rounding the northern
end. and. Mowing westward two miles, empties into the Ten-
nessee four miles above the city. Chattanooga Creek, flowing
northward through Chattanooga valley, skirts the eastern base
of Lookout Mountain and em])ties into tlie river opposite the
toe of Moceasin Point, two miles below the city. A little
over three-fourths of a mile from the northern extremity of
the ridge is a gap and tunnel through which the East Ten-
nessee -Railroad passes, while the Georgia Railroad rounds
the outlying hills between them and Chickamauga Creek;
thence southward, crossing the East Tennessee Railroad, and
on through Ringgold and Dalton to Atlanta. Bragg's line of
battle, six miles long, extended from Rossville. on the south,
where the line was weak and attenuated, to a hill north of the
tunnel, where Cleburne was entrenched, and supported by the
three remaining divisions of Hardee's corps. The Tennessee
river, only two miles from Missionary Ridge at the mouth of
Chickamauga Creek, curves gently westward from its south-
erly course; then bearing again southward it passes Chattanooga
four miles from the base of the Ridge. Fort Wood, situated on
an eminence east of the city, was located two miles from the
trenches at the base of the Ridge; the average distance from
this line of works to the crest where the main Confederate line
of battle was formed was six liundred yards. Intermediate
between the trenches and Fort Wood were two hills known
as Orchard Knolj and Bushy Knob, upon which Bragg's ad-
vanced pickets were posted. The Confederate artillery was
advantageously posted to sweep the vallev in all directions,
affording in s(jme jjlaces an enfilading lire upon an assaulting
line of troops.



Ctvu. l^atcs, in his ^rapliic (Iclincalion of the scene, saj^s:
"iVlioul twcl\-e o'rlork on the nii^^lit of the 24tli, I received an
ordtT from corps lu>a(l(|uartcrs to send Lewis's brigade to rcjtort
to Major-General Clel>urne on tlie rij^dit, whicli was ■i)rom]jtly
done. Daylight on the morning of tlie 25th found tlie two
remaining brigades of the division on the crest of the ridge,
Tyler's right resting at (jcn. Bragg's headciuarters and Finley's
])rol()nging the line to the left, while the enem}-, like a huge
serpent, uncoiled his massive folds into shajjelv lines in our im-
mediate front."

The "sha]jely lines" which elicited the aflmiration of Gen.
Bates and unfolded in full view of the Confederate army was
composed of the following brigades, after B. ird's division had
moved from it.s first position on the right to the extreme left
of Thomas's conimand : On the right was Johnson, with Carlin's
and Stoughton's brigades, i44of^cers and 2,971 men; on hi§ left
was Sheridan, with Sherman's, Harker's and Wagner's Ijrigades,
4.7^-j officers, 6,129 men; nextonthe left was Wood with Hazen's,
Sam Beatty's, and Willich's brigades, 400 officers and 6,438
men; then came Baird with Turclhn's. \'an Derveer's, and
Phelps' brigades, 318 officers, 5,905 men; total in line in front
of Fort Wood under Gen. Thomas, 1,299 officers and 21,443
men. Starkweather's brigade (2,250 strong) of Johnson's
division remained in the fortification at Chattanooga.

The sun shone brightly down u])on a scene of sur])assing
grandeur. Every movement of the troops in the valley was
distinctly \-isible from the headc|uarters of the contending
armies. The thundering of artillery on the left proclaimed the
opening of battle in Sherman's front, where Cleburne was
stoutlv contesting his advance. l*'ar to the right, like a s]:)eck
in the horizon, the National flag floated from the lofty ])eak of
Lookout Mountain, and Hooker's \nctorious columns wound



like a huge serpent down through tortuous paths to the valley
beneath, whence Carlin's brigade came marching to its old
position on Johnson's right.

The head(iuartcr flags of both armies floated defiantly in the
breeze, Grant's from the parapet at Fort Wood and Bragg's
immediately opposite, across the valley from the summit of
Missionary Ridge. There was not a soldier on either side who
did not know that a great and decisive battle was to he fought
that day.

Bragg attributed his defeat to the demoralization produced
by the sight of so many hostile troops. He says: "But one
possible reason presents itself to my m.ind in explanation of this
bad conduct in veteran troops who had never before failed in
any duty assigned to them. They had for two days confronted
the enemy marshaling his immense forces in plain view and
exhibiting to their sight such vast superiority of numbers as
may have intimidated weak minds and untried soldiers. But
our veterans had so often encountered similar hosts where the
strength of position was against us and with ])crfect success
that not a doubt crossed my mind."

As out of the four great battles in which his soldiers had n-et
the Army of the Cumberland they had been defeated in three,
they doubtless concluded that the chances were against them.

The Union Army, on the otiier hand, never faced the enemy
with greater eagerness for a fight. The Army of the Tennessee,
fresh from the capture of Vicksburg, and Hooker's command.
flushed with victor\' at Wauhatchie and Lookout .Mountain,
flaunted their well-earned laurels in the faces of tlie lieroes of
Chickamauga, wlio were equally eager to meet tlie tot-.

That Missionary Ridge would l)e carried when the adxance
sounded was a foregone conclusion, and to \>c first on the
sunnnit of the ridge was the g(jal of each sc)ldicr's ambition.



The iinijrc.ssion llial llu- assault was to stop at the rille-pits
at the base of the liill does not seem to have pervaded the
entire hne. In Haird's division on the left and Johnson's on
the right, the understanding was before the Hne started that
tliey were to storm the ridge. Baird's regimental oHieers
were ordered to leave their horses l)aek, Ijeeause the ridge
looked too steep for them to ride up. Sheridan and Wood,
however, were clearly of the opinion that they were only to
carry the rifle-pits.

The chances appeared to be m favor of Sherman's troops,
who were already in position u])on outl}-ing hills bevond its
northern extremity, when far away toward the south Mooker's
column was seen moving upon the left flank of the Confed-
erate line. The sun sailed grandly upward and reached
meridian, but Sherman's sledge-hammer strokes had produced
no apparent effect. Between his advance and 1 lardee's corjjs
there was a great gulf flxed, and a steep ascent, and bevond
it Hardee's stout infantry.

General Sherman had occupied the night in fortifving his
position on the hill north of the Ridge. One brigade of each
division was left on thc> hill ; one of M. L. Smith's closed the gap
to Chickamauga Creek; two of John E. Smith's were drawn
back to the base in reserve, and General Ewing's right was
extended down into the plain, thus crossing the hill in a general
line facing southeast, where it was su-[)])orted by Davis's divis-
ion of the Fourteenth Cor])s, .Vrmy of the Cumberland.

Daylight revealed a deep ravine in front of General Sher-
man's line, the o])posite side of which was high and precipitous.
The crest of the ridge was narrow and wooded, flanked by two
hills, one of which on the east was covered with trees, fortifled,
and held l)y Cleburne's division. The other, occupied by
Stevenson's and Cheatham's troops, freslily arrived from Look-
out Mountain and Chattanooga Valley, was partially cleared.



Wliile General Sherman, with the pluck and persistence
whicli formed his prominent characteristic, was sustaining the
shock of battle on the northern extremity of Missionary Ridge,
and Hooker's victorious columns were driving Breckenridge's
left flank through the pass at Rossville preparatory to their
swee])ing march along the ridge from that direction, the Army
of the Cumberland gathered itself for llic mighty struggle
which resulted in jjlantingits banners on the summit of Mission-
ary Ridge. Sherman's position not only threatened the right
flank of the enemy, but, occupying a line across the m^ountain
and to the railroad bridge across Chickamauga Creek, it threat-
ened his rear and stores at Chickamauga Station. Baird's
division of the Fourteenth Corps was ordered to Sherman's
support, but u]Jon Grant receiving a note from Sherman in-
forming him that he had all the force necessary, I3aird was ]jut
in position on Thomas's left. The ap])earance of Hooker's
column was at this time anxiously looked for and n:om.entarily
expected moving along the Ridge. His ap])roach was in-
tended as the signal for storming the rille-])its in the center
with strong columns, but the time necessary consumed in the
construction of the bridge over Chattanooga Creek detained
him to a later liour than was exjjected. Being satisfied by the
latest information from him that he nnist by this tin e be on
his way from Rossville, Grant determined to order the advance
at once. Thomas was accordingly directed to n^ove forward
his troops constituting the center — Baird's division, Four-
teenth Corps, Wood's and Sheridan's divisions. Fourth Corps,
and Jolmson's division, [""ourtecnth (\)r]js, with a double line of
skirmishers thrown out. followed in easy sup])orting distance
by the whole force — and carrying the rifle ]iits at the foot of
Missionary Ridge.

General (irant in his report does full credit to tlie troops



engaged. He says: " These troops move(i forward, drove the
enemy from the rifle pits at tlic Ijasc of the ridge like bees
from a hive, stopjjcd hut a moment until tlie whole were in line
and commenced the ascent of the mountain from rigiit to left
almost simultaneously, following closely the retreating enemy
without further orders. They encountered a fearful volley
of grape and canister from nearly thirty pieces of artillery
and musketrv from still well-filled rifle pits on the summit of
the ridge. No wavering, however, was seen in all that long
line of brave men. Their progress was steadily onward until
the summit was in their possession. In this charge the casual-
ties were rcmarkal)l_\- few for the fire encountered. 1 can
account for this only on the theory that the enemy's surprise
at the audacity of such a charge caused confusion and pur-
poseless aiming of their })ieces."

Gen. Thomas's description of the charge is characteristically
modest. He says : "The whole line then advanced against the
breastworks and soon became warmly engaged with the enemy's
skirmishers. These giving way retired upon their reserve
posted within their works. Our troops advancing steadily in
a continuous line, the enemy, seized with panic, abandoned
their works at the foot of the hill and retreated precipitately
to the crest, where they were closely pursued by our troops,
who, apparently inspired l)y the im])ulse of victory, carried
the hill simultaneously at six different points, and so closely
upon the heels of the enemy that many of them w-ere taken
prisoners in the trenches. We captured all their cannon and
ammunition before they could be removed or destroyed.
After halting for a few^ moments to reorganize the troops, who
had become somewhat scattered in the assault of the hill. Gen.
Sheridan pushed forward in ])ursuit an'd drove those in front
who escaped capture across Chickamauga Creek. Generals



lO



Wood and liaird being obstinately resisted by reinforcements
from the enemy's extreme right, continued fighting until dark-
ness set in, slowly but steadily driving the enemy l)efore them.
* * * Tlie alacrity displayed l)v officers in executing
their orders, the enthusiasm and spirit displayed by the men
who did the work, cannot be too highly appreciated by the
nation for tlic defence which they have on so many other
memorable occasions nobly and patriotically exposed their
lives in battle."

It will be seen that the two generals most prominent in
directing the operations upon the center leave the description
of the grand pyrotechnics of the l)attle-field to be supplied by
subordinate commanders.

Orchard Knob and the ridge to its right, captured by Granger
on the 23d, overlooked the long line of rifle pits at the base of
Missionary Ridge, and every movement of Confederate
troo])s upon the opposite ridge was distinctly visil)le from this
point of observation l)y the generals in command. Granger
had, immediately after occupying this position, thrown up a
rude breastwork along his front, and constructed an epaulment
for a six-gun battery on the Knob, in which he placed Captain
Bridge's battery of four three-and-a-half inch Rodman guns
and two Napoleons.

As seen from Chattanooga, the summit of Missionary Ridge
presents an unbroken line against the horizon. The inequali-
ties in its surface were obscured l)y the heavy growth of trees
that skirted the base and extended high uj) the slope. Nearer
observation reveals deep, dark ravines crossing it at irregular
intervals. The slope facing Chattanooga presents a bare,
rough, and broken surface, marked by gullies and ravines.
Ci ranger refers to it as a mountain barriereven as nature planted
it, and a most form!dal)le fortress. The commander who licld



1 1



it might 1)C warranted in llic conclusion llial troojis coiild not
storm it. But strengthened as it was by the enenn' willi a
Hue ot heavy breastworks running along its base, willi two
additional lines of rifle pits, one partly girdling it midway up
and the other fringing its erest, and with epaulments on its
summit for fifty guns, it could well be deemed impregnable.
The valley lying between the contending lines of battle, a mile
in width, was wooded in front of Orchard Knol) and the ridge
to its right where Wood's divisicMi was posted, and open ground
in front of Sheridan and Johnson, bvit all along the front of the
Confederate rifle-pits the ground had been cleared that no
obstruction might be oft'ered to the leaden hail and iron missiles
with which they intended to greet an assault. Johnson's
division on the right was so overlapi)ed by the line of works
in his front that he says they "stretched away to the right as
far as the eye could reach."

General Baird's division having been withdrawn from its
position on the right of Johnson and sent to reinforce Sher-
man, was brought back to the left of Wood, wlierc it arrived
at half past tw-o, in time to participate in the assault. He had
just finished establishing his lines when word came from Xjen~
eral Thomas to move forward to the edge of the open ground
which bordered the foot of Missionary Ridge, wnthin strikin^^
distance of the rifle pits, so as to be ready at the signal to dash
forward with the remainder of the line and capture the works
in front. An interval of two miles lay between Baird's left and
Sherman's right flank, unoccupied by Union troops, and the
line of battle formed by Baird's, Wood's, Sheridan's, and John-
son's divisions was al)out two miles in length. The signa^ for
the advance, six guns fired in rapid succession from Fort Wood,
was sounded at twenty minutes before four o'clock, and before
the smoke had cleared awav, twentv thousand soldiers, fornicd



12



in three lines, as if on i)arade, dashed across the intervening
space and closed in a death-gra])|)lc with the enemy. The
l)rigades, as formed in line, ranged as follows from left to right.

Phelps', Van Derveer's, Turcliin's (of Baird's division);
Beatty's. Willich's. Ilazen's (of Wood's division); Wagner's,
Marker's, Frank T. Sherman's (of Sheridan's division);
Stoughton's, and Carlin's (of Johnson's division).

Starkweather's brigade of the latter division, one of the most
reliable in the army, remained in the works at Chattanooga,
but the gallant commander deserted it and joined the assault-
ing force, where his interest in a regiment from his own State
came near costing his life — the First Wisconsin.

The main line was preceded l)y a double line of skirmishers,
which had no sooner emerged into the open ground in front of
the Confederate works than Missionary Ridge blazed with con-
tinuous volleys of artillery, and a galling fire was poured upon
it from the rifle ])its. Yet in all that magnificent line scarcclv
a straggler was to be seen. As it swept forward the ground
was strewn with wounded men, writhing upon the ground or
staggering to their feet, amid a storm of iron missiles aimed at
the advancing line, but which, overshooting the mark, fell
witli fearful effect u])on tlie wounded in its rear.

Granger describes the scene gra])hically : "At the moment of
the advance not less than fifty guns o])ened at once, throwing
a terrible shower of shot and shell. The enemy now taking the
alarm, commenced to uiove troo])s from l)oth extremities of the
ridge to fill the works below and around the l)atteries. In the
meantime tlie troo]>s holding the woods were driven back to
the works at the base of the ridge, their ]jursuers ra]jidly fol-
lowing. Here they halted and made a stout resistance; but
our troo]js, by an impetuous assault . lu'okc their line in several
jjlaces, then scaling the breastworks at these ])oints, o])ened a



13

ilrink and reversed fire Ujion tlieni, whicli, tlirowin^ tliem into
eonfusion, caused tlieir j)re(,'i])itate tlii^ht. .\lan\' jirisoners
were left in our liands. and wt' ea])lured a large number of
small arms. My orders had now lieen fully and successfully
carried out, but not enough had been done to satisfy the brave
troops who had aeeonii)lishcd so nuich. Although the bat-
teries on the ridge, at short range, bv direct and enfilading fire
were still pouring down upon them a shower of iron, and the
musketry from tlie hill-side was thinning their ranks, they
dashed over the breastworks, through the rifle ])its, and started
u]) the hill.

"They started w'ithout orders along the whole line from right
to left simultaneously, and with one accord, animated with one
spirit, and with heroic courage eagerly the}' rushed forward to
a danger before which the l)ravest men, when marching under
orders, might tremble. ( )fhcers caught the enthusiasm of the
men, and the men in turn were cheered bv their officers. Each
regiment tried to surpass the other in hghting its wa\- up the
steep acclivity."

Brave hearts, stout limbs, and strong lungs were required to
climb the rugged road, and many fell through sheer physical
exhaustion. Enough were left to press forw'ard in the race for
the summit, cheered by the shouts of their comrades in the
rear and animated by the hope of being first to plant their
regimental flag upon the crest. Those in advance were less
exposed to the artillery fire, but received the full force of in-
cessant volleys of musketry. It was evident to everv general
officer that the troops were disobeying orders in advancing
beyond the first line of works. Grant incjuired of Thomas by
whose orders they were ascending the ridge. " Bv their own,
1 tliink," said that philosopher. "It's all right if it turns out
right," said Grant. Granger sent a staft' ofhcer to Wood and



14

Sheridan to inquire whether they had ordered the troops for-
ward, and suhsecixientlv (Hrected tlieni to carry the ridge if
possible. Wood re])hed that the advance from the rifle pits
was made without orders, but that if he was supported he could
take the ridge. Sheridan seeing the wdiole line pushing for-
ward, concluded he must have mistaken the order and sent to
in(iuire what works were required to be taken, those at the foot
of the ridge or those at the top. Before his messenger returned,
his advance was climbing toward the summit, and he was push-
ing his reserves forward to su])]:)ort it. The charge having
been begun by the men, it devolved upon the officers to see that
it was successful. There were none who could be held re-
sponsible for its failure. The lighting had thus far been done
mostlv bv the skirmishing lines. The reserves were now
pushed forward and every precaution taken to check a counter
charge wliich was momentarily expected to be made u])()n the
thin line ap])roaclnng the summit.

(hi the other hand, the broken nature of the ground, seamed
with ravines and torrent washed gullies, enaljled the Union
soldiers to shelter themselves from the artillery fire, and to
creej) unseen u])on the flanks of the Confederates, who were
gathered in regiments and brigades uponprojectingspursof the
mountain. Thus Bate, while re])ulsing Sheridan's charge
upon his front, was apprised of tlic Ixxlv of troops on his right,
across a ravine. Before he could ascertain whether they were
friends he was greeted with a volley of musketrv. (icneral
Bate's left flank (Finley's l)rigade) rested on the Crutchfleld
road. Adams' brigade of Stewart's division, commanded bv
Gijjson, was on his right, and se])arated Bate's line from
Patton Anderson's. On his left was the remainder of Stewart's
division. < )n an eminence projecting from the right of Bate's
line toward the front was Slocumb's battery, and Mebane's



was .stron_2;ly ])()st('(l near liis cciittT. ('()i)l»'s liutterv was still
turther to tlu' riLjhl, in I'attcm Anderson's line. The former
had an cnfiladint^f tire u])on the adxaneiiiij; lini', but t.lu' .ground
descended so al)ru])lly in front of Mebane's battery that his
j^uns were eoni])aratively useless. Ilaz-cn's men followed Rey-
nold's so ra])idl\- that they had no time to form in line on to])
of the ridge, but tied to the rear. ( )n tijaining the crest Colonel
Langdon, commanding llazen's advance, captured a battery
and turned it upon the troo])s on his right, (jcneral Hate
says: "Anderson was on m\- right and Stewart on mv left.
These dispositions having been made we awaited the onset of
the foe, who seemed confidently resting as a giant in his strength
on the plain below, while volleys on the right told of the conflict
being waged. Al)Out tliree or four P. M. the enenn- initiated
a movement along our entire front by advancing a heavv line
of skirmishers, followed by two unl)roken lines of battle, with
heavy reserves at intervals. Bvit a slight resistance was given
to this advance by the troo]3s of Reynold's brigade in the
trenches in our immediate front. They abandoned the ditches
on the approach of the enemy's skirmishers and sought refuge
at the top of the hill, breaking and throwing into slight disorder
the left of Finley's brigade as they passed through. Major
Weaver of the Sixth North Carolina regiment seemed to be in
command. He rallied and formed these troops (who seemed
to be from two of the regiments of Reynold's brigade) across
the Crutchfield road, a few paces in the rear of the main line.
A well-directed and effective fire having l)een 0])ened upion the
advancing line handsomely re])ulsed it, throwing a portion of it
behind our vacated trendies and ])reci])itatcd others on their
second line, which, being out of range of small arms, I ordered
the firing to cease and the line to fall back a few paces to re-
plenish ammunition and give the artillery an unobstructed



1 6.



swccj). This was executed coolly and wilhout confusion.
1 took occasion durinj,^ this inler\-al to push a few sharp-
sliooters forward on the dccli\'ity of the hill in front of the
smoke as videttes."

"Order was soon restored in the ranks of the enemy and an-
otlier onward movement made in systematic and defiant style.
M\- infantry was again ad\-anced to the verge of the ridge and
opened a spirited fire, which was constantly replied to. Dur-
ing this charge my attention was called to some scattered
troo])s a few hundred yards to my right, making their way
ai)|)arentl\- without resistance to the top of the hill. Believing
them to be Confederates falling back from the trenches, 1 for-
bid my right wing firing on them and sent a staft' officer to
ascertain who they were. Upon receiving the answer I
directed upon them a right oblicjue fire of infantry and artillery


1

Online LibraryG. C KniffinThe Army of the Cumberland.. → online text (page 1 of 2)