|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
|Source: Wikimedia Commons|
The Battle of Missionary Ridge opened for Cleburne's men at Tunnel Hill at 10:30 AM with a Federal artillery barrage against Brig. James A. Smith's Texas Brigade as Sherman's renewed his attack on the north end of the ridge. Historian Wiley Sword writes:
... Cleburne's duel with Sherman loomed as a classic contest of generals, arguable the best against the best. The crucial question was that of applied combat leadership. The fight on the north end of Missionary Ridge thus was a momentous collision with immense stakes. For Cleburne, it was the test of a lifetime. For Sherman, it was the best chance of his career. No wonder that it would become one of the Civil's War's most remarkable encounters.Cleburne's after battle report of the Battle of Tunnel Hill is captivating and compelling narrative, well worth repeating here:
Up to 10.30 a.m. the enemy contended himself with severe skirmishing, and a heavy artillery fire from batteries erected by him during the night on the detached hill. About this hour he drove in Smith's skirmishers, and possessed himself of the breastworks which Smith had abandoned that morning. A heavy attack on the tunnel and on Smith's line was now imminent. General Hardee sent me directions to take my position at the tunnel, and to take charge of everything in that quarter and to the right of it. The enemy was now in sight, advancing in two long lines of battle, his right stretching far beyond my left, his left stretching beyond Smith's right, where farther view of it was prevented by the woods that covered and bordered the detached hill....
At 11 a.m. the first serious fight of the day commenced. It was heavy along Smith's whole line, and extended some distance south of the tunnel. The right of the enemy's line, exposed to the fire of several pieces of artillery planted over the tunnel, and met by a brigade sent by General Hardee to the foot of the ridge, swayed backward and forward for some time, but did not dare to advance nearer than 400 yards, and finally lay down, contenting itself with sending forward a large body of skirmishers and sending to the rear a much larger number of stragglers. The enemy's left, however, under shelter of Smith's abandoned work of the night before, and protected by the woods on that flank, and by the precipitous, heavily wooded sides of Tunnel Hill, advanced rapidly on Smith's line, and finally made a heavy charge on Swett's battery on the apex of the hill. The artillerymen stood bravely to their guns under a terrible cross-fire, and replied with canister at short range, but still the enemy advanced. When he had reached within 50 steps of the battery, Brigadier-General Smith charged him with the right of Mill's regiment and the left of the Seventh Texas, Smith's north front pouring into him from the breastworks a close volley at the same time. The enemy was routed and driven back to his cover behind the hill-side and abandoned work.
About 1 p.m. it was evident that another grand attack was soon to be made on my division. In a few minutes after it commenced. The enemy again lined Smith's abandoned works, and from them kept up a close, incessant fire on Smith's north front, and particularly on the artillery on top of the hill. Simultaneously a charge was made on the west face of Tunnel Hill. Warfield's regiment was thrown forward outside of the work to the crest of the hill, looking into the Tennessee Valley, to meet this charge. Key['s battery] fired rapidly into the charging line as it crossed the open ground at the west foot of the of ridge, but it was soon under shelter. At the steep the enemy's line now seemed to form into a heavy column on the march, and rushed up the hill in the direction of the batteries. Warfield's fire stopped the head of the charging column just under the crest. Here the enemy lay down behind trees, logs, and projecting rocks, their first line not 25 yards from the guns, and opened fire. Tier after tier of the enemy, to the foot of the hill and in the valley beyond, supplied this fire and concentrated the whole on a space of not more than 40 yards, till it seemed like one continuous sheet of hissing, flying lead. This terrific fire prevented Warfield's men from moving sufficiently forward to fire with effect down the hill, but otherwise it only swept over our heads. The cross-fire from Smith's abandoned work was, however, more fatal. It took Warfield in flank and was constantly disabling men near the top of the hill.
The fight had lasted unceasingly for an hour and a half, and the enemy seemed to be constantly re-enforcing. The First and Twenty-seventh Tennessee, of Maney's brigade, Colonel Field [sic] commanding, was moved in front of the work, and placed on Warfield's right, the latter officer and his gallant regiment, still nobly holding their exposed position, although the regiment was diminished in numbers and almost out of ammunition. It was at this critical period of the day that Lieutenant-Colonel Warfield suggested to me that our men were wasting ammunition and becoming disheartened at the persistency of the enemy, and proposed a charge down upon them with the bayonet. Brigadier-General Cumming gallantly proposed to lead the charge with two of his regiments. I immediately consented, and directed General Cumming to prepare for the charge and went to the left to see that a simultaneous charge was made on the enemy's right flank. I now ordered the left of Mills' (Texas) regiment, being the extreme left of my division, to make the charge on the enemy's flank the moment that Cumming charged them in front, and I remained at the breastwork myself to see the execution of the order.
In the meantime General Cumming, having placed the Fifty-sixth Georgia in line for the charge, and supported it by placing the Thirty-sixth Georgia 10 paces in rear, moved forward to the charge; twice he was checked and had to reform. Warfield's (Arkansas) regiment with empty guns, and the gallant First and Twenty-seventh Tennessee prepared to share his next effort. At the command the whole rushed forward with a cheer, Lieutenant-Colonel Sanders, simultaneously leading the left of Mills' (Texas) regiment on the enemy's flank. The enemy, completely surprised, fled down the foot, the Texas troops on the left pursuing him beyond the foot and nearly across the open ground in front. Our charging columns returned with many prisoners and stand of colors; a fresh force of the enemy, attempting to follow us as we returned from this charge, was quickly met and routed by the Fiftieth Tennessee and with troops of my division. Immediately on his last repulse the enemy opened a rapid and revengeful artillery fire on Tunnel Hill from his batteries on the detached hill, and under cover of this fire he went to work felling trees and fortifying his position.
For 7 hours, and against odds nearly 7 to 1, Cleburne's men had held Tunnel Hill against determined forces.3 But the Confederate success had come at great cost in terms of the brave lives lost. Cleburne's work was not in vain, although he was about to receive disheartening news from further down the line. Even as his men were cheering their triumph on the right, the left of the Confederate line had collapsed and was being carried away. By 6:00 PM, only Hardee's and Cleburne's troops stood in the path of a complete Federal sweep of Missionary Ridge.
Soon after the final defeat of the enemy in front of Smith's position I received a dispatch from General Hardee to send to the center all the troops I could spare, as the enemy were pressing us in that quarter. I immediately ordered Generals Cumming and Maney, with their respective brigades, to report accordingly, and went myself to push them forward. Before I had gone far, however, a dispatch from General Hardee reached me, with the appalling news that the enemy had pierced our center, and were on Missionary Ridge, directing me to take command of my own, Walker's and Stevenson's divisions and form a line across the ridge, so as to meet an attack upon my flank, and take all other necessary measures for the safety of the right wing.
From Cleburne's report:
Soon after night was upon us, and General Hardee ordered an immediate retreat across the Chickamauga, and that Smith’s (Texas) brigade should remain in position and bring up the rear, General Lowrey attacked and drove back the enemy’s skirmishers in his front and then retreated. By 9 p.m. everything was across except the dead and a few stragglers lingering here and there under the shadow of the trees for the purpose of being captured, faint-hearted patriots succumbing to the hardships of the war and the imagined hopelessness of the hour. I now ordered Smith’s brigade to move in retreat. Sadly, but not fearfully, this band of heroes left the hill they had held so well and followed the army across the Chickamauga.
We soon reach Chicamauga & there we find out what has taken place - Everything is confusion - stragglers innumerable hunting their commands - Cleburne’s Div’s alone seems to maintain any order - Ah the bitter humiliation of this disastrous day - That day should not have been lost - There was bad conduct somewhere & I don’t know where - Time will develop - We bivouac near Chicamauga Station sleeping about 3 or 4 hrs -
After several unsuccessful assaults on our lines to-day, the enemy carried the left center about 4 o'clock. The whole ground gave way in considerable disorder. The right [i.e., Cleburne's Division] maintained its ground, repelling every attack. I am withdrawing all to this point.