In honor of Pvt. Nathan R. Oakes, CSA

150 years ago, my great grandfather, Nathan Richardson Oakes, served as a private in Company D of the distinguished 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in the Army of Tennessee. He participated in the great Civil War campaigns, including the battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and Bentonville. I am writing about his engagements as well as some details about fighting for the Lost Cause. I hope to honor him and commemorate the events and individuals that contributed to making this a renowned unit in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Johnston assumes command

On today's date in 1863, Gen. Joseph Eggleston Johnston took over command of the Army of Tennessee, currently under the temporary command of Gen. William J. Hardee. His announcement to his troops was simple: "By order of His Excellency, the President, I have the honor to assume command of this army." His appointment was well-received by the soldiers encamped in and around Dalton, Georgia.

Born to scottish emigrants in Virginia in 1807, Johnston graduated from West Point in 1829, ranking 13th of 46 in his class. His first appointment was as second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Artillery. In 1837, he resigned his commission to study civil engineering. Rejoining the army in 1838, he served with honors in the Mexican-American War, the Seminole Wars, and as a quartermaster general in California in 1860.

When his home state seceded in 1861, Johnston became the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to resign his commission. He was appointed brigadier general in the Confederate army and was assigned the post at Harpers Ferry in May of 1861. He soon organized the Army of the Shenandoah, later consolidated with P.G.T. Beauregard's army as the Army of the Potomac. Johnston was the senior Confederate commander at First Manassas/First Battle of Bull Run. During the 1862 Peninsula Campaign he defended the Confederate capital of Richmond, withdrawing under the pressure of a superior force commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. He suffered severe wounds at the Battle of Seven Pines, after which he was replaced by his West Point classmate, Robert E. Lee, who led the now renamed Army of Northern Virginia throughout the rest of the war.

After recovering from his wounds, Johnston went on to command in the western theater, ascending to command over John C. Pemberton's Department of Mississipi and East Louisiana, and more importantly, the Army of Tennessee following Braxton Bragg's resignation. Johnston was criticized by Richmond for his failures in the Vicksburg Campaign, of which he was not completely at fault since he was not entirely in control. After assuming direct command of the Army of Tennessee on today's date, he was engaged in a series of defensive battles against Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman from Dalton through most of the Atlanta Campaign. Critical of his series of retreats to Atlanta, President Davis relieved Johnston of command on the eve of the defense of that city in July of 1864.

Yielding to political pressure, the president reinstated Johnston in February 1865 as commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Soon, the remnants of the Army of Tennessee were transferred to Johnston in the Carolinas Campaign. By now the consolidated army was outnumbered and undersupplied, but it did experience one last success at the Battle of Bentonville. Robert E. Lee's surrender on April 9 led Johnston to finally surrender his department and the Army of Tennessee to Sherman on April 26, 1865. It was the largest single surrender of the war—89,270 soldiers.

After the war, Johnston worked in business and as railroad commissioner under President Grover Cleveland. Later, he served a term in the U.S. Congress. He also became close friends with his old opponent, William T. Sherman. In fact, Johnston was a pallbearer at Sherman's funeral in 1891, when he contracted pneumonia and died several weeks later. He is buried in the Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

Now in command of the Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia, Gen. Johnston started preparing his force for the coming spring campaign. He began by improving morale, which had reached its low following the rout at Missionary Ridge in late November. He improved his rail supply line from Atlanta and increased rations for his 39,000-man army. He made efforts to provide shoes and uniforms for his tattered soldiers. He strengthened discipline while also creating a system for granting furloughs to his weary men. His new measures worked, and thousands of absentees returned and reinforcements were added to the ranks. By April, the army had increased to 54,000. As the men began to trust their new commander, order and a sense of confidence were restored, returning the Army of Tennessee to a formidable force over the next few months.

Read more here:

Johnston did some reorganization to his army about this time. But apparently he was satisfied with the organization of Cleburne's Division, in which my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving in Lowrey's Brigade, stationed on today's date outside of Dalton, since he made no important changes. Neither was there any significant military activity while the division was stationed at Tunnel Hill.

Joseph E. Johnston monument in Dalton, Georgia
Source: Hal Jespersen | Wikimedia Commons

Sources: The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn;  Civil War Trust

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I heard the bells on Christmas Day, 1863

On this date in 1863, American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, father of a recently wounded Union soldier, penned this famous and poignant poem, now a beloved Christmas carol.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet, the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along, the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn the households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cleburne's war college

In early December, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne's Division established its winter quarters at Tunnel Hill, 7 miles northwest of Dalton, Georgia, where the rest of the Army of Tennessee is encamped. Cleburne's men, including Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Regiment, guarded the crest of Tunnel Hill and the wagon road to Dalton. Since there was no longer an immediate threat from the Federal army at Chattanooga, Cleburne turned some of his attention to training and disciplining his division.

Most of the Confederate army was made up of volunteers or conscripts with little to no experience at being soldiers—except, of course, what they picked up on the job. Cleburne insisted upon military discipline and obedience to orders. Part of maintaining discipline and fighting readiness in his division included regular drilling of his brigades. At the Tunnel Hill outpost, he went so far as to construct a log cabin classroom where he personally instructed his brigade commanders in the art of war. He taught them from Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics and listened to their recitations. Cleburne's brigadiers, in turn, taught the officers under their various commands.

Maj. Gen. William Hardee was quite impressed with Cleburne's work and its results. After the war he wrote in the Southern Historical Society Papers about Cleburne's war college at Tunnel Hill and the men he trained:
[Cleburne] devoted the winter months to the discipline and instruction of his troops, and revived a previously adopted system of daily recitations in the tactics and the art of war. He himself heard the recitations of his brigade commandersa quartette of lieutenants worthy of their captainthe stately Granberry [sic], as great of heart as of fame, a noble type of the Texan soldier; Govan, true and brave as he was courteous and gentle; [Polk], young, handsome, dashing and fearless, and Lowry* [sic], the parson soldier, who preached to his men in camp and fought with them in the field with equal earnestness and effect. These brigadiers heard the recitations of the regimental officers. The thorough instruction thus secured, first applied on the drill ground and then tested in the field, gave the troops great efficiency in action.
With such careful attention paid to training his men, it's no wonder that Cleburne's Division earned so much praise for its prowess on the battlefield. And Federal troops were heard to say they dreaded to face the blue battle flag of Cleburne's Division more than any other across the battlefield.

* Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey was the commander of Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's brigade.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; "Biographical Sketch of Major-General Patrick R. Cleburne," Gen. William J. Hardee, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 31

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bragg's departure

On today's date in 1863, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg took his leave of the Army of Tennessee, which he had led in victory and disaster since assuming command in Tupelo, Mississippi, in June the year before. In an emotional ceremony he surrendered his command of the army, now at Dalton in North Georgia, to Lt. Gen. Hardee. The following is Bragg’s farewell order to his army:
General Order, No. 214. 
Upon renewed application to the President, his consent has been obtained for the relinquishment of the command of this army. It is accordingly transferred to Lieutenant-general Hardee. The announcement of this separation is made with unfeigned regret. An association of more than two years, which bind together a commander and his trusted troops, cannot be severed without deep emotion. For a common cause, dangers shared on many hard-fought fields have cemented bonds which time can never impair. The circumstances which render this step proper will be appreciated by every good soldier and true patriot. The last appeal the general has to make to the gallant army which has so long nobly sustained him is to give his successor that cordial and generous support essential to the success of your arms. In that successor you have a veteran whose brilliant reputation you have aided to achieve. To the officers of my general staff, who have so long zealously and successfully struggled against serious difficulties to support the army and myself, is due, in a great degree, what little success and fame we have achieved. Bidding them and the Army an affectionate farewell, they have the blessings and prayers of a grateful friend. 
Braxton Bragg.
Upon assuming command, Lt. Gen. Hardee issued his own General Order to his men. Considering the unfriendly relations these two men shared, Hardee's remarks about his former commander sound generous and conciliatory.
Soldiers of the Army of Tennessee: 
Gen. Bragg having been relieved from duty with the army, the command has devolved upon me. The steady courage, the unsullied patriotism of the distinguished leader who has shared your fortunes for more than a year, will long be remembered by this army and the country he served so well. 
I desire to say, in assuming command, that this is no cause for discouragement. The overwhelming number of the enemy forced us back from Missionary Ridge, but the army retired intact and in good heart. Our losses are small and will be rapidly repaired. The country is looking upon you. Only the weak need to be cheered by constant success. Veterans of Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro and Chickamauga require no such stimulant to sustain their courage. Let the past take care of itself. We can and must take care of the future.

W. J. Hardee.
Hardee's command will only be temporary, and President Jefferson Davis will soon pick a more permanent replacement. After asking Gen. Robert E. Lee to consider, who declined, Davis appointed Joseph E. Johnston.

Bragg's departure will be mourned by few under his command. As Civil War author Peter Cozzens writes, "Even Bragg's staunchest supporters admonished him for his quick temper, general irritability, and tendency to wound innocent men with barbs thrown during his frequent fits of anger. His reluctance to praise or flatter was exceeded, we are told, only by the tenacity with which, once formed, he clung to an adverse impression of a subordinate. For such officers—and they were many in the Army of the Mississippi—Bragg's removal or their transfer were the only alternatives to an unbearable existence."

Bragg's patriotism and sense of duty are without question. However, his actual leadership skills were a serious mismatch for the demands of a commander-in-chief of an army second to only Robert E. Lee's in Virginia.

Contrary to the warm farewell he delivered to his command, as his official reports and letters demonstrate, it was an embittered Bragg who departed the army on today's date. His own record contains scathing criticisms of his subordinates, and a shifting of blame to them for his own mistakes. He even went so far as to accuse his men of cowardice, which is remarkable considering the actual bravery and indomitable spirit they displayed in their many hardships and sacrifices for this unappreciative general.

So, it is no surprise that many rejoiced to see Bragg go. However, he will soon become the president's  top military advisor, and in that position, continue to wield power and influence over the Army of Tennessee.

Sources: No Better Place to Die, Peter Cozzens; Mountains Touched With Fire, Wiley Sword; Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 3

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ringgold Destroyed

On November 27, 1863, Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne's defense of Ringgold Gap, Georgia, had been a complete success. His division, tasked with holding the gap at all costs while Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee retreated beyond to Dalton, defeated Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker's army of superior strength and numbers.

On today's date in 1863, Hooker withdrew the last of his occupation force from the town of Ringgold, but not before destroying it. On the previous day, its citizens had been herded outside of town and informed that their village would be destroyed as a military necessity. Overnight, Federal soldiers systematically set fire to the buildings and homes, an terrorist tactic that the Union army will use to maximum effect in the months ahead. The entire town—home to more than 2,000 people—was completely and needlessly reduced to ashes.

Source: Mountains Touched With Fire, Wiley Sword

Bragg resigns

On this date in 1863, following the disastrous rout from Missionary Ridge, Braxton Bragg's resignation was formally received by President Davis, and he was relieved from command of the Army of Tennessee, now at Dalton, Georgia. He was ordered to turn over his command temporarily to Lt. Gen. William Hardee, which will take place on December 2.

In typical style, a bitter Bragg will depart the army still reproaching his subordinates for his campaign blunders. In his official report and a letter sent to President Davis on December 1, he blamed the Missionary Ridge disaster on the cowardice of some of his subordinates and on Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge's drunkenness. He will continue to attach his misfortune to the perceived venality and ambition of some of his generals.

Following his resignation, Bragg will continue to receive the President's loyalty and support. On December 7, Davis will publicly shift the responsibility for Missionary Ridge away from his friend. Reporting to Congress Davis said, "It is believed that if the troops who yielded to the assault had fought with the valor which they had displayed on previous occasions... the enemy would have been repulsed with very great slaughter, and our country would have escaped [this] misfortune." Certainly, this is unjust criticism of the troops who so faithfully endured long months of hardship and deprivation under the disapproving and unsolicitous general.

Not surprisingly, many in the army were delighted to see Bragg go. However, he will soon become the president's military advisor, and in that position, continue to wield power and influence over the Army of Tennessee.

Source: Mountains Touched With Fire, Wiley Sword

Friday, November 29, 2013

Winter Quarters for Bragg's army at Dalton | Tunnel Hill

Following an astounding victory on the 27th over Federal Maj. Gen. Hooker's army at Ringgold Gap, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne moved his division to its winter quarters at Tunnel Hill, about halfway between Ringgold and the town of Dalton, where the rest of Braxton Bragg's army is encamped. Together with Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry, Cleburne is tasked by Bragg to guard the army from any Federal advance from Ringgold. Cleburne's men, including Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Regiment, guarded the crest of Tunnel Hill and the wagon road to Dalton. In time, Cleburne's men were able to construct crude log huts complete with fireplaces to keep warm through the approaching winter. They will remain encamped here into February of next year.

Area of the Confederate encampment around Dalton,
Georgia, during the winter of 1863-1864
The Confederate headquarters was in Dalton, Georgia, a small town at the junction of the Western & Atlantic and the Georgia Railroads. It was a good defensive position, protected by the Rocky Face Ridge that ran about 12 miles from north to south. About 3 miles from the northern end of the ridge, and 3 miles northeast of Dalton, the Mill Creek and the railroad cut through the ridge at Mill Creek Gap (or Buzzard Roost). About 4 miles south of the gap was another pass through Rocky Face known as Dug's Gap. The road ran through Dug's Gap to the village of Villanow, about 14 miles southwest of Dalton.

After its defeat at Ringgold Gap on the 27th, Federal Gen. U.S. Grant decided to break off pursuit of the Confederates. His attention now was focused on reinforcing Gen. Ambrose Burnside at Knoxville, presently under siege by Gen. James Longstreet's Confederates. On today's date in 1863, Longstreet unwisely launched an attack, which was repulsed with heavy loses on the Rebel side.

In the meantime, Grant sent Gen. W.T. Sherman with 25,000 Union troops from Chattanooga to assist Burnside. Longstreet was forced to withdraw and soon abandoned Eastern Tennessee for Virginia, his one opportunity for independent command ending in failure.

Tunnel Hill, Georgia Cir. 1905
Source: Georgia Archives
Cleburne’s Division went into winter camp at another “Tunnel Hill,” this one halfway between Ringgold and Dalton, 9 miles away. The winter passed with relatively few incidents. Cleburne had a log structure built that became a military school for his division. Time passed in drilling and instruction of the troops in preparation for the engagements that would come in May of 1864.

In the organization of the Army of Tennessee, on December 10, temporarily commanded by Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee following Bragg's resignation, the 32nd and 45th Mississippi Consolidated Regiment was commanded by Col. Aaron B. Hardcastle. The regiment remained in Brig. Gen. Mark Lowrey’s Brigade of Cleburne’s Division, in Hardee’s Corps (commanded by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham). Also in the Brigade are the 16th Alabama (Maj. Frederick A. Ashford), 33rd Alabama (Col. Samuel Adams), 45th Alabama, Lieut. Col. H. D. Lampley), and the 15th Battalion Mississippi Sharpshooters (Capt. Daniel Coleman).

Sources: The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and the 45th Mississippi Regiment, David Williamson; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 3

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863

Today's observance of Thanksgiving marks the 150th anniversary of the first national Thanksgiving Day, which, unbeknownst to many Americans, has a direct link to the War Between the States. It was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863,* in the aftermath of the carnage at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and the Union defeat at Chickamauga. His proclamation set the precedent for America's national Thanksgiving observance.

The holiday's history in America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation, and those customs on ancient celebrations from biblical times. Prior to Lincoln's announcement, church leaders or individual states decided their own Thanksgiving holidays, observing days of prayer and thanksgiving at different times in the calendar. They followed the tradition of George Washington, who was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving in 1789, and the earlier Plymouth colonists who celebrated their first harvest in 1621. In Lincoln's proclamation he set apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." Since 1941, the holiday is officially celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November.

Ironically and unintentionally, Lincoln's national proclamation went into effect on November 26th, 1863, the day after the defeat of the Army of Tennessee on Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, Tennessee. As Northerners were celebrating, Gen. Braxton Bragg's beaten army was retreating across the Chickamauga Creek near where it had witnessed a magnificent victory only weeks before. Serving in the army's rear guard in Patrick Cleburne's Division, was my 18-year old Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes.


By the President of the United States of America. 
A Proclamation. 
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. 
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed. 
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth. 
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
* See the history of the proclamation and a copy of the document at the National Archives website

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"The most glorious triumph" | Cleburne's Division in the Battle of Ringgold Gap, 1863

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.

Finally, on the 26th, Grant ordered part of his army to Knoxville and directed Sherman and Thomas to send a force to pursue Bragg. On the same day Bragg was pushing the remnants of his army through Ringgold Gap. Feeling vulnerable about a Federal attack, he ordered Cleburne's Division to again hold off the pursuers until the army had safely retreated to Dalton.

After serving as the rear guard for Bragg's army retreating from the disaster on Missionary Ridge late on the night of the 26th, Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne ordered his men to bivouac on the South Chickamauga across from Ringgold, a small North Georgian town 20 miles southeast of Chattanooga on the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Serving in Cleburne's Division is Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, in Company D1 of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, commanded by Col. William H.H. Tison. Gen. Joseph Hooker's force encamped for the night about 2 miles northwest,.

Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne
At 3 AM on today's date, a Friday in 1863, Cleburne received Bragg's order to hold Ringgold Gap at all costs. There were only 4,157 men and 2 cannons in Cleburne's Division to hold back an overwhelming number of Federal troops. Initially, his Confederates will have to face 3 of Hooker's divisions, numbering nearly 9,000. More will arrive, swelling the Federal force to 16,000. Just like at Tunnel Hill on Missionary Ridge, the odds are again heavily stacked against Cleburne's men.

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.

Ringgold Gap was a steep, narrow, half-mile pass through Taylor's Ridge (known as Taylor Ridge today), about 400 feet high at its crest. The gap in the ridge was barely wide enough to accommodate the creek along with a wagon road and rail line close by. On the opposite, north side of the gap was White Oak Mountain, which rose 350 feet behind the town of Ringgold. The western slopes of both heights were steep and lightly forested. At the gap's western opening, which Cleburne's men would have to defend, the troops had an open field of fire. However, the ground behind them, on the eastern side of the gap was cut 3 times by the meandering stream. In a retreat, his men would have to cross several bridges or ford the creek to make their escape. It was a dangerous position to be caught in.

Source: The Wild Geese
At around 7:00 AM, in a brilliant display of generalship, Cleburne quickly began positioning his troops on or behind every natural defense where they would be the most effective to hinder an attack. He posted most of his troops on and between the 2 ridges guarding the gap with the majority of them along the stretch of White Oak Mountain extending north. He placed 1 of Brig. Gen. Mark Lowrey's regiments, the 16th Alabama, on Taylor's Ridge to guard the division's left flank. The other 3 regiments, he placed in reserve in Ringgold Gap itself. Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was posted here with his 32nd Mississippi Regiment (32nd/45th Consolidated). Because the pass was narrow, Cleburne was able to place his regiments in 4 short rows of defense. He had scant artillery, only 2 Napoleon cannons under the command of Lt. Richard W. Goldthwaite, which had to be used in the most effective spot. So, he camouflaged them and placed them in the center, within the mouth of the gap, where they could do the most damage. Cleburne remained here with the cannon to direct the coming fight.

Just a half-hour later, the leading edge of Gen. Hooker's column was spotted across the Chickamauga a short distance away. His skirmishers drove the Confederate cavalry2 at the crossing. Cleburne had planned a ruse to give the impression that only a small force guarded the gap. Fooled into thinking that the Confederate force at the gap was weak and demoralized, almost immediately Hooker ordered a direct attack, even before the rest of his force, including his artillery, had come into position to support it. So far, Cleburne's plan was working, but his men still had to receive the full weight of the approaching Federal attack.

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.

Just after 8:00 AM, not knowing the Confederate force that faced him, Hooker moved his skirmishers forward across an open field to the trees at the foot of the White Oak Mountain. There they were surprised by Confederate skirmishers of Hiram Granbury's Brigade. Granbury's men held their fire until the attackers were within 50 yards, well within killing range. The troops concentrated their fire from concealed positions at the timberline of the mountain. As the Federals recovered they began to climb the steep ridge, only to be stopped by a Confederate unit under Maj. William A. Taylor who led a charge down the slope. The Federals were sent back in confusion towards the protection of Hooker's headquarters at the Stone Depot.

From the Stone Depot, the Federal command reacted by feeding more regiments into the fight. One regiment was sent out over the same ground to attack the Confederate right flank, while another attacked the south slope of White Oak Mountain at the gap. They didn't know it yet, but these troops were heading into Goldthwaite's concealed artillery. Once the Union line was within 150 yards—grape shot canister range—the Confederates opened fire. The right of the Federal line was shredded, and the survivors were sent running for shelter behind the railroad embankment where their fire was largely ineffective.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Restored "Stone Depot" | Western & Atlantic RR Station at Ringgold. Hooker's
headquarters and the position from which he sent his troops forward to assault
the Confederate held ridge and gap beyond. View is from the Confederate side.

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.

Seeing those Union forces moving to his right, Cleburne ordered Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey to move his command, including Great Grandfather's 32nd/45th Mississippi, from its position in the gap to the top of the ridge in order to hold the Confederate right. According to Cleburne:
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.
Lowrey had galloped off ahead of his troops and reassured Polk's men that help was coming up the ridge right behind him. Then he hurried back to speed his brigade along, feeding each of his companies into line as they arrived. In his report, Gen. Lowery wrote of the action:
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.
By now the opposing lines were only 100 feet apart. Col. Aaron. B. Hardcastle, leading Great Grandfather's 32nd/45th Mississippi, described his regiment's arrival:
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.
Other Federal regiments were sent to support the troops struggling on the ridge, some coming within a few yards of reaching the summit. In order to counter this new threat, Polk and Lowrey shifted their forces to the right. Col. Hardcastle's report continues:
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.
Observing that the Federal forces continued to move to the Confederates' right flank, Polk moved his defending regiments to the threatened position and sent orders for the 5th Confederate Regiment to move to the top of the ridge. In his report, Gen. Polk stated:
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 Confederates on the ridge made excellent use of the terrain to deliver enfilading fire into the ranks of the advancing Yankee regiments. Gen. Lowrey reported:
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.
It was a fight at close quarters. At one point, men fought with pistols and even resorted to hurling rocks. Gen. Cleburne credits the rocks thrown by the men as having actually knocked down attackers resulting in their capture. In his official report, Cleburne sums up Polk's and Lowrey's defense of the ridge in the Federals' second attempt to take it:
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.
Years after the war, Lowrey wrote about this critical phase of the struggle at Ringgold Gap:
Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey
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.

Lowrey 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.
Author Peter Cozzens writes of Lowrey and Polk, "Seldom, in fact, was a unit commander in the Army of Tennessee better served by his subordinates than was Cleburne at Ringgold Gap." Cleburne reported, "To Brigadier-Generals Polk and Lowrey and Colonels Govan and Granbury, I must return my thanks. Four better officers are not in the service of the Confederacy." 

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker
During the 2 hours that Polk and Lowrey were defending the Confederate right on White Oak Mountain, Hooker sent in troops to renew the assault on the Rebel's weaker left on Taylor's Ridge. A little before 11:00, Federal regiments were sent through the fire of Goldthwaite's guns to the Chickamauga Creek towards Taylor's Ridge. They attacked Confederate skirmishers of Lowrey's lone 16th Alabama Regiment but were halted. Supporting Confederate snipers and return fire from the attackers kept both forces in a stalemate while other enemy forces began to advance. The Federals charged the Confederate line, but with supporting fire from the artillery, the defenders drove back their attackers. By noon, Hooker had finally begun to bring up his own artillery and started to shell the gap and the ridges on either side.

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.

In the Battle of Ringgold Gap, Cleburne's Division successfully held its position through 5 hours of heavy fighting before falling back towards the main Confederate army it had valiantly guarded. Against serious odds, Cleburne's defense of Ringgold Gap was a complete success. Outnumbered nearly 4 to 1, he lost only 20 killed and 201 wounded.3 His attackers suffered more than twice that with 509 killed and wounded.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Maj. 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.
1 From Capt. F.S. Norman's report of Co. D: "... was engaged in the Battle of Ringgold Nov. 27th had 3 men wounded 1 mortaly [sic], 1 severly [sic], 1 slightly, have since gone into winter quarters." One of the wounded in the battle was Pvt. J.D. Boyd, who died of his wound on Dec. 4, 1863.
2 Another ancestor of mine, Great-great Grandfather David Crockett Neal, fought in the 6th Tennessee Cavalry in Wharton's Division at Ringglod Gap.
3  Lowrey reported the brigade's losses: "My loss was slight, but 4 killed and 35 wounded."

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; The Shipwreck of Their Hopes, Peter Cozzens; Mountains Touched With Fire, Wiley Sword; Mark P. Lowrey Autobiography; Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Capt. Daniel Coleman Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cleburne's Division moves to Ringgold | 32nd Mississippi Infantry is rear guard

Serving as the rear guard for Bragg's fleeing army off Missionary Ridge on the night of the 25th, Patrick Cleburne's Division of Hardee's Corps, crossed the south branch of the Chickamauga Creek1 at the Shallow Ford Bridge. Trailing the division was the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment of Lowrey's Brigade, skirmishing with the enemy at its heels, then serving as the division's rear defense. The men of Great Grandfather Oakes's Company D were sent as skirmishers protecting the rear of the regiment.2 After burning the bridge, the division followed the beaten army along the Western & Atlantic Railroad line to the Chickamauga Station.

Around 11 AM on today's date, a Thursday in 1863, as the last of the Rebel column left the Chickamauga station, the Federals opened fire. The fighting was brief, and Confederate troops were soon on the road to Graysville, a village almost 4 miles ahead. Portions of Cleburne's and Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart's Divisions were attacked along the way. The last skirmish on this date was at Graysville, between Stewart’s Division and the vanguard of Hooker’s corps. Supporting the Confederate infantry were units from Wharton's Cavalry Division, including the 6th Tennessee in which another ancestor, my Great Great Grandfather David Crockett Neal served.

While the shattered main body of Bragg's army retreated on to Ringgold, its ultimate destination was Dalton, Georgia, 29 miles southeast of Chattanooga, on the rail line to Atlanta. Cleburne's men were assigned to slow the pursuing federal forces while Bragg's army continued its retreat. If necessary, Cleburne was to sacrifice his division to protect the lumbering wagons and artillery that were struggling to keep up with the army.

From Tunnel Hill on Missionary Ridge to Ringgold Gap
November 25-27, 1863

South of Graysville, Cleburne's men crossed the winding South Chickamauga at Gray's Mill, then marched another 5 miles before stopping at 10 PM opposite the town of Ringgold. The bridge over the meandering South Chickamauga at this point had already been burned, so rather than having his men cross the icy river to the southern bank as ordered, Cleburne directed them to go into bivouac where they were despite the real possibility that the Federal pursuers might catch them with their backs to the water. The division is now isolated from the rest of the army, which is retreating through Ringgold Gap.

Before dawn on the 27th, Cleburne's men crossed the waist-high Chickamauga to the small north Georgia town of Ringgold at the foot of Taylor’s Ridge. Here is where his division of merely 4,157 men was ordered to hold the Federals' advance until the army had safely evacuated behind them to Dalton.

Once again, Bragg will order Cleburne and his men to save the army.

1 Chickamauga Creek is a tributary of the Tennessee River, which it joins near Chattanooga. There are 2 main branches of the creek, the North Branch and the South Branch. South Chickamauga Creek is a long and winding stream through the valley in the northwest corner of Georgia. It flows north from Ringgold, Georgia, over the border into Tennessee and from there into the city of Chattanooga.
2 According to Co. D's Capt. F.S. Norman's sparse report of events of the 25th-26th: "... built rudeworks of logs under fire of the enemy during the morning of the  25th, was by these works during the day was thrown out as skirmisher at night to hold the enemy in check, while the regiment marched  off, marched that night with the regiment at Chickamauga 7 miles thence to Graysville, Ga. thence to Ringgold 12 miles"

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue;  Mountains Touched With fire, Wile Sword; Shipwreck of Their Hopes, Peter Cozzens; Muster Roll of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, Tommy Lockhart; Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 2; 
Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Capt. Daniel Coleman Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Monday, November 25, 2013

MacArthur at Missionary Ridge

Lieut. Arthur MacArthur
At the Battle of Missionary Ridge on today's date in 1863, 18-year-old 1st Lt. Arthur MacArthur, Jr. of the 24th Wisconsin Infantry, after scaling the ridge, grabbed his regimental flag from a fallen color bearer, shouting "On Wisconsin." He planted one of the first Federal flags on the ridge in front of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's headquarters. While there were many soldiers as brave as MacArthur that afternoon, for his action the lieutenant was promoted to the rank of major. He was also later awarded the Medal of Honor.*

Born to Scottish immigrant and Wisconsin lawyer, judge, and governor Arthur MacArthur, Sr., MacArthur Jr. had already seen action in fighting against the Army of Tennessee at Murfreesboro and Chickamauga. He will meet the same Confederate army throughout the Atlanta Campaign and again at Franklin. Recognized for his gallantry throughout the war, MacArthur ended with the rank of colonel. After the War Between the States, MacArthur again served his country in the Indian Wars, then the 1898 Spanish-American War, and finally the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. He retired at the age of 64 as a lieutenant general.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, 1945
Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur is also remembered for being the father of an even more famous American general in WWII, Douglas MacArthur. In the Philippines Campaign early in the war, Douglas MacArthur also received the Medal of Honor, making him and his father the first father and son to be awarded the medal.

* He was awarded the medal 27 years after the event and after an illustrious military career.

Sources: The Shipwreck of Their Hopes, Peter Cozzens; Mountains Touched With Fire, Wiley Sword

Sherman repulsed by Cleburne's men on Missionary Ridge, 1863

By the night of the 24th, Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant erroneously believed that Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman had gained Tunnel Hill at the north end of Missionary Ridge in the battle earlier that day.1 Based on this supposition, at midnight he issued an order for Sherman to attack the Confederates in his front on the morning of today's date in 1863. Sherman's objective was to turn Bragg's flank, which meant seizing the position from South Chickamauga Creek to Tunnel Hill. At the same time he issued orders to Maj. Gen. George Thomas to simultaneously attack the Confederates' center on Missionary Ridge. Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker would join the attack from his newly won position at Lookout Mountain, move to the south end of the ridge near Rossville, and then advance northward on Missionary Ridge.

Source: Civil War Maps  by Hal Jesperson

The appearance of Hooker's column was the intended signal for the advance of Thomas's troops, who were then to attack the enemy's center on Missionary Ridge. But that morning it was discovered that the Confederates, though they had evacuated Lookout Mountain, had concentrated their entire army on Missionary Ridge. Instead of retreating, they were prepared to make a stubborn defense. They had successfully resisted all Sherman's assaults the day before, had fortified the north end of the ridge, and had reinforced the troops at the center.

Hooker started from Lookout Mountain about 10 AM, but was detained several hours at Chattanooga Creek thanks to the Confederates having burnt the bridge in their retreat from Lookout Mountain. He was held there until about 2 PM. Consequently, Hooker's force was seriously behind schedule and did not reach the point where he was expected.

By noon on the north end of Missionary Ridge, where Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes was fighting in Mark P. Lowrey's Brigade of Patrick Cleburne's Division, the Confederates had repulsed every assault by Sherman's troops. Sherman now had 6 divisions under his command—nearly a third of the army's strength at Chattanooga. Before noon, Sherman was sent another division, Baird's, for good measure. In total, Sherman had nearly 30,000 troops available to him. Confronting Sherman were just 6 brigades of about 4,000 Confederates: Smith's, Govan's, and Lowrey's of Cleburne's Division; Brown's and Cummings's of Stevenson's Division; and Maney's of Walker's Division.

By now, Bragg's entire Confederate Army of Tennessee was behind a defensive position along Missionary Ridge. Fifteen batteries, comprising about 50 guns were placed on its summit. There were also 2 siege-guns near Bragg's headquarters. The Confederate force on top of Missionary Ridge was about 1 mile from the Federal lines. The slope of the ridge, which was steep and rough, was about 600 yards in width, its average height about 400 feet. The Confederates had dug a line of rifle pits at the base of the ridge and a line of breastworks on the crest. The soldiers also had constructed breastworks at various intervals on the slope of the ridge.

During the morning, the Confederate movements seemed to indicate to the Federals that they were massing against Sherman on the north end of the ridge. Grant wrongly assumed that, in order to do this, they necessarily were weakening their center. Actually, the Confederate troops seen were those who had been withdrawn from Lookout Mountain and its adjoining valley following yesterday's loss. Grant believed that Sherman's situation on the north end of Missionary Ridge was turning critical so that an attack was required soon in order to relieve him.

Without having heard from Hooker's columns, and fearful for Sherman's situation, Grant made an spontaneous decision: He ordered Thomas to move his 4 divisions forward to take the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, a near suicidal mission. That being accomplished, his men were to reform their lines, then scale the cliffs and take the top of the ridge. By 4 PM, the Federal charge had begun. and 23,000 Yankees in a 2-mile battle line rushed forward and drove the Confederates from their works at the foot of the ridge.

While the order had been to wait to reform at the base of the ridge, the attackers came under fire from Confederate fire above. Their situation was untenable. They had to either advance or retreat, or else be killed by the fire from above. Without waiting for further orders the advancing troops made their decision and at once began climbing the cliffs.

Until that moment, most of the Confederates atop Missionary Ridge could not have imagined that enemy soldiers would attempt the climb, especially under incredible cannon and rifle fire. But amazingly, that's just what Thomas's men did. The Confederates were simply shocked and overwhelmed. Batteries couldn't depress their guns enough to fire in the invaders. Bragg had no reserves to send forward to fortify the positions being overrun. Hundreds of Confederates simply surrendered while thousands fled. In less than an hour and a half from the time the advance began, the Federals were in control of most of the ridge position that the Confederates had held for the past 2 months. Neither Grant nor Thomas could have imagined that Thomas's attackwhat was designed to be secondary to Sherman'swould actually be the decisive one today. It was, in fact, the turning point of the battle.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On the south end of the ridge Hooker had finally advanced his men from Lookout Mountain, and units began reaching Rossville Gap at the south end of Missionary Ridge. Around 4 PM, they began their attack. With little resistance from the corps of Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge2 his troops moved northward along the top and both sides of the ridge until they met up with Thomas's men. By the evening of the 25th, the Hooker's and Thomas's forces held the middle and south ends of Missionary Ridge, and the Confederates were in retreat. Except for the north portion of the ridge, where Cleburne's and Cheatham's Divisions of Hardee's right wing still held on, Missionary Ridge was entirely under Federal control.

The only Confederate success of the day was with Patrick Cleburne's men fighting on the right end of the ridge at Tunnel Hill, and they were beating the strongest of the 3 armies—Sherman's—attacking Missionary Ridge. If it hadn't been for Cleburne's valiant men holding back Sherman's massive force on the north end of the ridge on today's date, it would have been an overwhelming disaster for Bragg and his army. As it was, it almost didn't happen.

Just 2 days before, Cleburne had been ordered to vacate his position on Missionary Ridge to join Gen. James Longstreet in his Knoxville Campaign. While supervising the transfer of troops at the Chickamauga Station on the 23rd, Cleburne was ordered to return to Missionary Ridge immediately: Thomas had begun his attack on Orchard Knob, and Sherman was not far behind. As the Federals were winning Lookout Mountain on the 24th, Cleburne was positioned at Tunnel Hill (a point on Missionary Ridge about 250 yards north of the actual railroad tunnel) with orders to stop Sherman and ensure a secure line of retreat if that became necessary. After briefly skirmishing with the enemy on a forward, detached ridge, Cleburne's men dug in around Tunnel Hill for the night.

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.
Brig. Gen. Smith and Colonel Mills were both severely wounded as they led their men in this charge. Brigade command now fell to Col. Hiram .B. Granbury. A half-hour later, the Federals charged again. Grandbury's men held with help from the artillery and some long-range musket fire from Lowrey's men posted on an adjoining hill to the north behind hastily constructed breastworks. But Granbury's troops received heavy casualties. In fact, reported Cleburne, in just a few minutes so many artillery commanders were killed or wounded in succession that Granbury was forced to draft infantry to work the guns. In spite of the losses, the Federal attackers were again driven back. But Cleburne's men were not finished yet.

By noon, Sherman's first attack was over. Nearly 6 hours had passed since Sherman was to have launched an attack to take Tunnel Hill. However, all he had accomplished was to invite serious damage to 2 of his attacking brigades. In the brief lull before the next attack, Cleburne rushed to make several important changes, seemingly anticipating Sherman's next move. Cleburne's report continues:
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.
It was about 1:30, and the fierce attack had now lasted more than a half-hour, with serious damage done to the advancing Federals. Key's Battery was forced to depress its guns to the extreme, firing shell and canister down the sharp incline as the enemy returned fire. Discovering the near impossibility of reaching the enemy by direct fire, and running low on ammunition, some of Cleburne's men found hurling large rocks and rolling great boulders down the steep slope to be more effective than rifle fire. Hardee sent some additional help in the form of artillery fire and a couple of supporting regiments. But these could offer little assistance.

Cleburne continues:
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.
That Rebel charge began at 4:00 PM, and, along with hand-to-hand fighting, it sent the Federals running. In less than an hour, another charge was organized to drive the remaining forces from the base of Tunnel Hill. Overall, it was magnificent fighting, that resulted in capturing several stand of colors and many prisoners. More importantly. it haling Sherman's attempts to capture Tunnel Hill, taking his force out of action for the rest of the battle.

For 7 hours, and against odds nearly 7 to 1, Cleburne's men had held Tunnel Hill against determined forces.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.

The consequence for Cleburne's exhausted men will mean even more sacrifice if the army is to be saved. As Cleburne reported:
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.
In the general retreat of Bragg's army that day, Cleburne’s Division, the only organized Confederate force left, served as rear guard. Cleburne will do everything in his power to save the army. He immediately ordered Brig. Gen. States Rights Gist, commanding Walker’s division, to form his troops across the ridge. Next, he ordered all vehicles that could be spared to cross the Chickamauga Creek. He sent Lucius Polk orders to send a force to the Shallow Ford Bridge and hold it at all cost. He also sent Govan’s brigade to meet the enemy’s advance on the Shallow Ford Road.

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.

Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey, whose brigade was the least battered from the all-day fight, was ordered to launch a counterattack to drive back the Yankee skirmishers from in front of the ridge and mask the division's withdrawal from Missionary Ridge. Then, under cover of this attack, the rest of his command fell back to the bridge behind the division. The 32nd Regiment was one of the last to fall back, and Co. D, my Great Grandfather's, took up the rear to defend it while the regiment withdrew.4

By about 10:00 PM, nearly 12 hours after the first Federal assault that morning, Cleburne’s Division arrived on the northern bank of the East Chickamauga Creek. After burning the Shallow Ford Bridge to slow up Sherman's pursuit, the division joined the tattered army assembling at Chickamauga Rail Station.

The scene at the station was one of utter chaos. In his diary entry Capt. Daniel Coleman of Cleburne's Division describes what he witnessed:

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 -

While the Battle of Missionary Ridge had been a disaster for the Confederate army, Gen. Cleburne’s actions and the courage of his men that night surely saved Bragg’s Army of Tennessee from destruction. Gathering his beaten army at the Chickamauga Station the night of the 25th, a despondent Bragg wired Richmond a terse report summarizing the disaster:
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.
Bragg will withdraw his army through Ringgold to Dalton. The bravery and sacrifice demonstrated by Cleburne's men will again be called upon at Ringgold Gap on the 27th.

Sherman had taken what he thought was the north end of Missionary Ridge, but actually he had taken a completely separate rise known as Billy Goat Hill. Across a deep ravine was Cleburne's Division, fortified at Tunnel Hill, the northernmost portion of the actual ridge. Sherman took no further offensive action that day, and, instead, ordered his men to dig in on Billy Goat Hill.
2 Bragg blamed Maj. Gen.  John C. Breckinridge for the disaster that resulted from the collapse of his corps. At Dalton, Bragg immediately relieved Breckinridge of command and even accused him of being drunk at the time.
3 In his memoirs years later, Sherman still had not come to grips with his loss at Tunnel Hill. Instead of acknowledging his assigned role as the main attack on Missionary Ridge that day, he portrayed his part as diversionary to Thomas's assault on the center: "The object of General Hooker's and my attacks on the extreme flanks of Bragg's position was, to disturb him to such an extent, that he would naturally detach from his centre as against us, so that Thomas's army could break through his centre. The whole plan succeeded admirably; but it was not until after dark that I learned the complete success at the centre, and received General Grant's orders to pursue on the north side of Chickamauga Creek…" Sherman's close friend and commander, U.S. Grant, also covered for his subordinate by recasting the attack as secondary to Thomas's main attack in the center of Missionary Ridge.
4 Capt. F.S. Norman of Co. D wrote in his report: "... built rudeworks of logs under fire of the enemy during the morning of the 25th, was by these works during the day was thrown out as skirmisher at night to hold the enemy in check, while the regiment marched off ..."

Sources: Civil War times, 1861-1865, Daniel Wait Howe; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; ChattanoogaA Death Grip on the Confederacy, James Lee McDonough: The Shipwreck of Their Hopes; Peter Cozzens; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Mountains Touched With Fire, Wile Sword; Muster Roll of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, Tommy Lockhart; Memoirs of Gen. William T. Sherman; Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 2; Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Capt. Daniel Coleman Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill