|Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010|
Following the unexpected victory at Missionary Ridge on the evening of the 25th, Union Gen. U.S. Grant's attention turned towards how to send relief to Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, supposedly under siege at Knoxville. Consequently, he let slip the opportunity to do serious damage to Braxton Bragg's fleeing and disorganized army. Although some pursuit was attempted right after the Confederates fled, it was turned back largely by Patrick Cleburne's command. The hesitation afforded Bragg's army a slim margin of time to make its escape the next day southeast to the town of Ringgold, with Dalton, Georgia as its final destination.
|Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne|
Shortly after receiving his instructions, Cleburne ordered his men to wade the stinging cold, waist-high South Chickamauga Creek. Volunteers had been sent ahead to light campfires on the opposite bank so the soldiers could warm and partially dry themselves before being deployed to defend the gap. Cleburne had already crossed the creek ahead of his men to make a quick examination of the ground he was ordered to defend.
|Source: The Wild Geese|
The Confederate army's train of wagons was still in full view, struggling to pass over the winding creek through and beyond the gap toward Dalton, as Hooker's force approached the town. Cleburne's men were the only barrier between the tail of the Army of Tennessee and the pursuing Federal army.
Farther to the Federal left, soldiers began moving north up the ridge of White Oak Mountain to seek a way around the Confederates' right. Earlier that morning, Cleburne had ordered Brig. Gen. Lucius Polk to form his brigade in the gap along the road running to the rear and to maintain contact with Granbury's force on the ridge. Polk's Brigade fought with the Federal skirmishers who had ascended nearly to the top of the ridge, and after a half-hour of skirmishing, the Federals were driven back. However, the attackers reformed, and being heavily reinforced, began to move back up the crest.
I ordered General Lowrey to move his command up the hill and assist General Polk in defending that position. Moving rapidly ahead of his command General Lowrey found the First Arkansas again heavily engaged, but heroically holding its ground against great odds. Assuring the regiment that support was at hand, he brought up the Thirty-second and Forty-fifth Mississippi in double time, and threw them into the fight at the critical moment. The enemy gave way and went down the ridge in great confusion. Lowrey now brought up the two remaining regiments of his brigade and Polk up the two other regiments of his command. The enemy, constantly re-enforcing, made another powerful effort to crown the ridge still farther to the right.
I moved my brigade at once by the right flank, and after ascending the hill I heard firing several hundred yards to the right, and, leaving a staff officer to bring up the command, I went in haste to see what it meant. I found the First Arkansas Regiment engaging the enemy´s skirmishers, who had already gained the top of the hill. After assuring this regiment that support was at hand, and directing them to hold their position, I hastened to the head of my brigade, which was coming up the ridge at a double-quick with the right flank to the enemy, and the bullets from the enemy's guns already flying down the line, I knew that nothing but the most prompt and rapid movement could save the position, and that I could not take time to put the whole brigade in position before moving upon the enemy. Hence, on reaching the head of the column, composed of Hawkins' sharpshooters and the Thirty-second and Forty-fifth Mississippi Regiments, I commanded, by company into line, and deployed the column on the tenth company, continuing the movement to the front with all possible rapidity at the same time. I sent Lieutenant Hall, my aide-de-camp, to bring up the next regiment in the same manner, and I went with the first to their important work, and nobly did they perform it. Our spirited fire, the sight of re-enforcements, and a terrific rebel yell combined to strike terror to the foe, and he fled in confusion.
On arriving on the top of the ridge, Brigadier-General Lowrey gave the command, "by company into line," and then, "on the tenth company deploy column, and move rapidly forward, obliquing [sic] to the right, and take position on the crest of the ridge to the front," which movements were executed rapidly, and under a hot fire of the enemy at short range, and, from the fatigue occasioned by the toilsome ascent of the steep ridge, some little confusion occurred, and the four right companies formed on the right and the remainder of the regiment on the left of the First Arkansas Regiment, which was in position on the ridge The enemy were near gaining the tip of the ridge when we arrived and drove them back in disorder and confusion, inflicting a heavy loss on the enemy.
In about three-quarters of an hour the First Arkansas Regiment moved to the right, and I then formed my left on the right wing, and reformed my regiment in good order while subject to a heavy fire from the enemy.
After a considerable delay, about 12 m., the enemy commenced moving a column rapidly by the left flank on a road running some 200 yards from the foot of the ridge. I again moved by the right flank and watched their movements. Having moved by the left flank some half mile, the enemy by a rapid movement threw their line in a column of regiments and advanced up the hill. They were again met by the same stubborn resistance that before repulsed them. General Lowrey coming to my assistance with one of his regiments, I had it moved in rear of my line until the enemy had advanced within 40 yards of my line, when I ordered it up in line with First Arkansas Regiment, and at the same time throwing Second Tennessee down the hill upon the left flank of the enemy, they were again driven back to the foot of the hill in great confusion.
The Thirty-third Alabama Regiment was soon brought up and formed on the left of the Thirty-second and Forty-fifth Mississippi, and the Forty-fifth Alabama on their left, while Brigadier-General Polk came up with two regiments and formed them on the right. The enemy, in the meantime, was pressing up the hill with great, determination, but the heavy fire from our advantageous position rendered their ascent impossible. But as they continued to move to the right, it was necessary for our line also to move to the right and to leave a bare line of skirmishers to hold the crest of the hill on the left. When Brigadier-General Polk was severely pressed, he sent to me in great haste for assistance, when I moved the Forty-fifth Alabama Regiment in double-quick to his support, and the general said as his ammunition was nearly exhausted they were just in time to save the position. When my ammunition was nearly exhausted and I had sent for more, my men and officers gave me assurance with great enthusiasm that they would hold the position at the point of the bayonet and with clubbed muskets if the enemy dared to charge them. The position was held until I was ordered to retire from it, which was done in good order.
A peculiarity of Taylors Ridge is the wavy conformation of its north side. The enemy, moving up in a long line of battle, suddenly concentrated opposite one of the depressions in this wavy surface and rushed up it in heavy column. General Polk, with the assistance of General Lowrey, as quickly concentrated a double line opposite this point, at the same time placing the Second Tennessee in such a position as to command the flank of any force emerging from it. The attack was again defeated and the enemy hurled down the hill, with the loss of many killed on the spot, several prisoners, and the colors of the Seventy-sixth Ohio Regiment. The colors and most of the prisoners were captured by the First Arkansas.
The victory was ours and the enemy was gone down the hill in perfect confusion. A deafening shout of triumph went through our line, and General Polk, as if enwrapped in the glory of our success dashed up to me, and seizing me by the hand exclaimed, "Just in time to save us, General!" The men, observing the rapture of their brigade commanders, again pierced the heavens with their shouts of triumph, greatly to the annoyance, no doubt, of the discomfited columns of the enemy.
Brig. Gen. Mark P. LowreyLowrey went on call the defense at Ringgold Gap "the most glorious triumph I ever witnessed on a battle field." Due to his role on this date, perhaps he should be allowed a little poetic license. Certainly, the division deserved the same high praise for its triumph at Tunnel Hill only 2 days before, when the odds against it were nearly twice as high.
|Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker|
Thankfully for the Confederates, at noon Cleburne received word from Lt. Gen. Hardee that the Confederate supply wagons were now well beyond Ringgold, so he could withdraw his division from the gap. Cleburne made plans for a staged withdrawal. By 1:00 PM, the Rebels began withdrawing both cannon by hand under a rough screen constructed of brush. An hour later, Cleburne withdrew his skirmishers, burnt the bridges, and began forming a new line a mile in his rear. Col. Hardcastle reported that he left behind a small picket force of men from the 32nd/45th Regiment behind to watch the enemy. Other regiments did the same.
Gen. U.S. Grant arrived at Ringgold at 11:30 AM, in time to witness the Confederate triumph. He soon ordered Hooker to break off his attack and allow Cleburne's Division to withdraw. Professional army Gen. Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker, victorious in his assault of Lookout Mountain only 3 days before, was entirely outgeneraled by his volunteer army counterpart, Gen. Patrick "Stonewall of the West" Cleburne at Ringgold Gap. Although Hooker will be severely criticized for his leadership at the Battle of Ringgold Gap, he will retain his position through the Atlanta Campaign.
With the Federals showing no further signs of attacking, Cleburne ordered his men to bivouac behind Ringgold Gap and to build fires to fool the enemy. That night, he ordered his division to march southward where it will take up outpost duty at the town of Tunnel Hill, just north of Dalton, Georgia. The final stage of the fall campaign is now at an end.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne's Statue, Ringgold, Georgia
Unveiled October 9, 2009
On February 9, 1864, the Confederate Congress at Richmond passed a Joint Resolution of Thanks to Cleburne and his men for their "distinguished service" performed at the Battle of Ringgold Gap:
Resolved, That the thanks of Congress are due, and are hereby tendered, to Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne, and the officers and men under his command, for the victory obtained by them over superior forces of the enemy at Ringgold Gap, in the State of Georgia, on the 27th day of November, 1863, by which the advance of the enemy was impeded, our wagon train and most of our artillery saved, and a large number of the enemy killed and wounded.
2 Another ancestor of mine, Great-great Grandfather David Crockett Neal, fought in the 6th Tennessee Cavalry in Wharton's Division at Ringglod Gap.