The Civil War (Western Theater):
A Guide to Several Battlefields
By J. Brent Norlem
This is Part Four of a Five-Part Article
At Alexander’s Bridge, Wilder’s troops engaged another large Confederate force. Confederate infantry tried to take the bridge at 1000 hours but were driven back by pickets of the 72nd Indiana. The 72nd Indiana ripped up more floor planks of the bridge and used them to construct a lunette at the west end of the bridge, which was manned by 27 troopers of Company A, armed with deadly Spencer rifles. When the next attack began, the four guns of Lilly’s battery opened fire with long-range canister and percussion shells. They were answered by Confederate artillery. A ricochet landed among the Federal cannoneers. Pvt. Sidney Speed picked up the sputtering shell and tossed it over the Alexander house where it exploded harmlessly.
For the next several hours, the Federals traded fire with the Confederates, who had taken positions in a cornfield. Time and again the Confederates charged the bridge, only to be driven back by Company A, reasonably well protected in its plank lunette. For nearly five hours, Wilder’s Brigade repelled enemy attacks, but then the Confederates began to find safe places to cross and began to mass on the west side of the creek. Knowing that Minty had been forced to withdraw, and with his brigade being pressed on all sides, Wilder recognized that he too must withdraw. At 1700 hours, the four guns of Lilly’s Battery fired their last rounds. The guns were limbered up and withdrawn, the 17th Indiana covering them. The 98th Illinois withdrew slowly, fighting as they retreated, covered only by Company A in its lunette. Finally, the men of Company A quietly slipped away, two at a time.
Wilder’s brigade fell back about three miles where it established a defensive line, throwing up breastworks of earth, fence rails, stones, and trees. Minty’s brigade took up positions to Wilder’s left, and the returning 72nd Indiana and 123rd Illinois fell in to Wilder’s right. Soon, five brigades of Confederate infantry moved down the west bank of the creek toward Lee and Gordon’s Mill but were halted by the fire of the massed Spencer rifles. Wilder reported the engagement to Maj. Gen. Thomas Crittenden, who refused to believe that Wilder was facing anything more than some dismounted cavalry. Then Minty arrived with the same report. Still disbelieving, Crittenden ordered Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Wood to take a brigade of infantry and drive off the Confederates. Crittenden accompanied Wood and the brigade to Minty’s and Wilder’s positions where Wood’s infantry advanced into the forestation, meeting a tornado of Confederate rifle fire from both front and flank. The Federal survivors panicked and fled back through the defensive line of Minty and Wilder, bowling over the cavalrymen. The graycoats advanced toward the blucoat defensive line, the Federals holding their fire. When the Confederates were 30 yards from the line, the Federals opened on them with their Spencers, mowing them down like wheat. The Confederates fell back to the woods, regrouped, and attacked again. When they were close enough, the Federals opened fire again, their Spencers and the guns of Lilly’s Battery creating great holes in the Confederate ranks. The Confederates again retreated to the relative safety of the woods, and apparently having had enough, broke off their attacks at 2200 hours.
At 0400 hours 19 September, Minty’s and Wilder’s brigades were relieved and moved to a rest area where men and horses were fed for the first time in 24 hours.
The courage of Minty’s and Wilder’s brigades in holding the crossings of Chickamauga Creek prevented the Confederates from rolling up the Federal flank. Without their heroism, the Federals would have lost the Battle of Chickamauga the first day.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee had achieved much surprise 18 September, though not as much as Bragg had hoped. Rosecrans, viewing the dust clouds created by the approaching Confederate army, discerned Bragg’s plan and ordered McCook’s XXI Corps and Thomas’s XIV Corps to the support of Crittenden’s XX Corps. Even as the Confederates were crossing Chickamauga Creek, McCook and Thomas were arriving in Crittenden’s rear. As the morning of 19 September dawned, Thomas’s four divisions were deployed north of Crittenden, a situation of which Bragg was unaware, believing that Crittenden’s position was the left flank of the Army of the Cumberland. Federal commanders were equally unaware that the Confederates has crossed the creek in force. Early that morning, the corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner and the division commanded by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Cheatham joined the forces of Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood and Maj. Gen. Hiram T. Walker who had crossed to the west side of the creek the preceding day.
The fighting the morning of 19 September began with an attack by Thomas who thought he was facing only a small detachment of cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. The battle continued to expand and grow in intensity, seesawing back and forth all day, as Bragg and Thomas committed more of their forces. As the day wore on, the Army of Tennessee gained a slight advantage, driving the Federal force back slowly to Lafayette Road. During the night, Rosecrans rearranged the divisions of the Army of the Cumberland into a more compact defensive line as Bragg was planning to resume the offensive the next day by again trying to envelop the Federal left flank. Bragg realigned the Army of Tennessee into two wings, one commanded by Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk, the other by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, newly arrived with his corps from Virginia. Bragg apparently was unaware of the rigorousness of the day’s fighting, as he told Longstreet the army had been “engaged in severe skirmishing” that day “while endeavoring to get in line of battle.”
Bragg ordered Maj. Gen. Daniel H. Hill to attack the Federal left at 0730 hours, 20 September, but Hill delayed two hours, smarting over not having been given wing command. This was the third time during the campaign that Bragg’s orders were disobeyed or ignored by his top generals. Thomas used the quiet morning hours to great advantage, having his Federal troops construct crude but effective breastworks along the Federal defensive line around the perimeter of Kelly Field. However, soon after Hill’s attack began, the Confederate division commanded by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge flanked Thomas on his left and gained Thomas’s rear. By 1015 hours, though, part of Federal Maj. General James S. Negley’s division, held in reserve, had driven northward and repulsed Breckinridge’s attack. The next Confederate attack was launched by Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s vaunted division, but it was driven back by fire from the Federal breastworks around Kelly Field. Bragg changed his tactics from a flanking attack to a full frontal assault along the full Federal line. At 1100 hours, a concerted attack by the forces of Confederate Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart and Walker was soundly repulsed.
It appeared that the Federals would carry the day – and then disaster struck. Thomas called for reinforcements, and Rosecrans began shifting units in reaction to the attacks on his left flank. About the time that the Federals were repulsing the Confederate frontal assault, Rosecrans ordered the division commanded by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Wood to replace the division of Brig. Gen. Milton Brannan, which had been ordered to reinforce Thomas. Brannan had not obeyed the order, though, after being attacked by Stewart’s force. The order itself was poorly written to the point of ambiguity, ordering Wood to close up and support Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds. Wood could not close on Reynolds, however; he moved his troops to a position supporting Reynolds – leaving a gaping hole in the Federal defensive line. Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook rushed troops to plug the gap, but the entire Confederate Army of Tennessee wing commanded by Maj. Gen James Longstreet was already pouring through it, attacking the flanks of the Federals on either side as they moved forward. Longstreet had led another successful surprise attack (albeit by accident), a tactic for which he was famous in the Eastern Theater.
The Federal troops near the gap began to retreat, at first in an orderly fashion, but it became a rout, carrying Rosecrans along with them. Crittenden’s and McCook’s troops soon followed, and by 1300 hours Thomas was the only Federal commander left on the battlefield. Rosecrans sent word to Thomas to withdraw north to Rossville, Georgia, a few miles from Chattanooga, but Thomas’s forces were in too thick fighting to disengage. Thomas began consolidating his forces on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Ridge. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, commander of the Federal Reserve Corps, north of the battlefield at McAfee’s Church, heard the firing and on his own initiative ordered the forces of Brig. Gen. James B. Steedman to aid Thomas. Steedman’s troops arrived about 1430 hours, in the nick of time to repel Longstreet’s attempt to envelop Thomas’s right flank. At 1600 hours, Longstreet led a final attack but was unable to break the incredibly tenacious Federal defense. At the same time, Thomas’s forces repelled another attack by Cheatham on their left flank. Thomas withdrew his forces to Rossville that night. His stubborn defense of 20 September earned him the sobriquet “The Rock of Chickamauga.”
Because of the terrible losses suffered by Bragg’s army, plus lack of logistical support, he did not pursue the Federals, who retreated 21 September to the relative safety of Chattanooga ,while the Army of Tennessee occupied the heights surrounding the city, laying seige to the Federal army. Unable to break the seige, Rosecrans was relieved of his command 19 October. It would take the relief forces of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, arriving in November, to lift the seige and regain the initiative over the Confederates.
The Battle of Chickamauga, 18-20 September 1863, was an unqualified tactical victory for the Confederates, halting the Federal advance and bottling up the entire Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga. It was the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War. It caused an estimated 34,624 casualties: 18,454 for the Confederates and 16,170 for the Federals.
Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, the first and largest such entity in the United States, was established in 1890 to commemorate the several battles fought within its perimeter. The 5,200 acre Chickamauga Battleground is one of the best-preserved and best-maintained of all Civil War battlefields (End Note No. 19), featuring a seven-mile self-guided automobile tour (or bicycle, or motorcycle, or by foot) with excellent historical markers identifying the major points of interest and the action that took place there, as well as a profusion of stone markers showing the exact positions of various units. Few Civil War national military parks can boast such excellent markers. In addition, there are dozens of commemorative monuments, artillery pieces, hiking trails, horse trails, and wayside exhibits; and there is a large deer population which, accustomed to people, often grazes during the day. The large visitor center is staffed with some of the most helpful and knowledgeable rangers in the National Park Service. The frosting on this tempting cake is the splendid Claud E. and Zenada O. Fuller Collection of American Military Shoulder Arms housed in the visitor center, one of the foremost such collections in the nation. In the visitor center, where one can find posted numerous facts about the Battle of Chickamauga and the men who fought there (End Note No. 20), there’s an excellent Civil War bookstore and a well-stocked souvenir shop.
Like the Shiloh Battlefield, this is a sprawling, thousands-of-acres park with a highly complex three-day battle history. We should plan a day-long tour, and unless we have familiarized ourselves well with the battle, we might be wise to engage a tour guide to explain the history and significance of the many points of the tour (must be arranged in advance). During some summer weekends (check with the visitor center) there are battle scene reenactments by Civil War reenactor units from various states, along with living history demonstrations of Civil War soldiers’ camp life.
Chickamauga Battlefield is at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, virtually a suburb of Chattanooga. To reach the battlefield from Chattanooga, take Rossville Boulevard (U. S. Highway 27) south to Fort Oglethorpe. At the intersection with Battlefield Parkway, continue through the intersection onto Lafayette Road (U.S. Highway 27 is Exit 180 from Interstate Highway 24). The battlefield entrance is one mile ahead. To reach the battlefield from Interstate Highway 75, take Exit 350 to Battlefield Parkway (Georgia State Highway 2) west to Fort Oglethorpe. Turn left from Battlefield Parkway onto Lafayette Road. The battlefield entrance is one mile ahead.
Stunned and disorganized by the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, the Federal Army of the Cumberland staggered into Chattanooga to recover and regroup. The Confederate Army of Tennessee took possession of the summit of Lookout Mountain unopposed, and occupied Missionary Ridge, both heights overlooking Chattanooga where the Army of the Cumberland was now in a state of seige, its supply lines cut. Confederate artillery atop Lookout Mountain controlled access via the Tennessee River, and Confederate cavalry devastated Federal wagon trains trying to reach the city. With such a Confederate advantage, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans knew he was in grave danger of losing Chattanooga.
President Lincoln was acutely aware of the importance of Chattanooga and said, “….taking Chattanooga is as important as taking Richmond.” A primary rail center, Chattanooga linked major supply depots of the Confederacy, and as such was all-important in Lincoln’s strategy to divide and conquer the Confederacy. Lincoln ordered reinforcements to Chattanooga. On 17 October 1863, Lincoln gave Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant command of all Federal forces west of the Appalachian Mountains, designated the Military District of the Mississippi. Grant relieved Rosecrans as commander of the now-starving 40,000-man Army of the Cumberland, appointing in his stead Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, “the Rock of Chickamauga.” Grant’s chief engineer, Col. William F. “Baldy” Smith (End Note No. 21), devised an operation called the “Cracker Line,” ordering a surprise amphibious assault at Brown’s Ferry that opened the Tennessee River for the Federals and linked the Army of the Cumberland with a relief column of 20,000 from Virginia, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, enabling a steady flow of reinforcements and supplies to reach the beseiged Federals in Chattanooga.
Meanwhile, the Confederate high command had been having its own nearly catastrophic problems. As noted earlier, Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg had lost the confidence of most of his subordinate officers and had alienated them to the degree that some of his orders were disobeyed, ignored, or as in the Battle of Chickamauga, only cursorily followed. Bragg’s failure to pursue and destroy the Army of the Cumberland as it fled to Chattanooga pushed his officers into open rebellion. Especially incensed was cavalry leader Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who vowed aloud that he would never again obey a single order from Bragg. The other officers, including Longstreet, formally petitioned President Jefferson Davis to replace Bragg. Davis traveled to Chattanooga, arriving in October 1863. He made a show of conferring with the mutinous officers but left his good friend Bragg in command.
Soon after Davis returned to Richmond, Grant arrived in Chattanooga. The aforementioned Cracker Line was established to supply the Army of the Cumberland. Bragg responded to the Cracker Line by ordering Longstreet’s corps (on loan from the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Lt. Gen Robert E. Lee) to drive the Federals out of Lookout Valley. The ensuing engagement, the Battle of Wauhatchie, 28 to 29 October, 1863, was one of the few battles of the Civil War fought exclusively at night. Longstreet’s forces were soundly repulsed and the Cracker Line secured. Bragg then dispatched Longstreet’s corps to Knoxville – perhaps to rid himself of one of his severest critics, or perhaps because he had lost confidence in the vaunted corps from the Eastern Theater – to assault Maj. Gen. William Burnside’s fortified facilities, simultaneously weakening the Army of Tennessee.
With the arrival in mid-November, 1863, of Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s four divisions (20,000 troops) from Mississippi, Grant was ready to commence offensive operations against the Army of Tennessee. On 23 November, in the Battle of Lookout Mountain, the troops of the Federal Army of the Cumberland who had fought so valiantly for Thomas at Chickamauga charged up the moderately defended Orchard Knob, sending the defenders reeling in retreat. Grant’s tactical plans for 24 November called for a two-pronged attack, Hooker assaulting the Confederate left, Sherman assaulting the right, while Thomas held the Confederate center immobile at Orchard Knob. At dawn, Hooker’s three divisions attacking Lookout Mountain found that the defile between the mountain and the river had been left unguarded. Hooker’s troops charged though the gap and up the mountain, dislodging 1,200 Confederate defenders. The assault ceased at about 1500 hours as the Federals’ ammunition was running out and a low, thick fog enveloped the mountain. Bragg withdrew his troops defending Lookout Mountain to a defensive line on the far side of Chickamauga Creek, burning the bridges after they had crossed. Because of the fog, some colorful writer – perhaps the one who changed the meaning of Chickamauga from “stagnant water” to “River of Death” – christened the Federal taking of Lookout Mountain the “Battle above the Clouds,” and that appellation was generally and permanently adopted.
In the meantime, Sherman’s force successfully crossed the Tennessee River and invested what Sherman thought was the north end of Missionary Ridge, but which in reality was Billy Goat Hill, a ridge completely separate from Missionary Ridge. Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s division (End Note No. 22) was rushed to Tunnel Hill at the north end of Missionary Ridge to reinforce the Confederate right flank, but no attack was made there 24 November.
Grant revised his plans 25 November, ordering a double envelopment by Hooker and Sherman. Thomas was to advance in the center after Sherman had reached Missionary Ridge from the north.
The Battle of Missionary Ridge took place 25 November 1863. The site was a heavily manned, Gibraltar-like Confederate bastion with steep, nearly vertical faces into which rifle pits had been precariously situated. Grant was convinced that a frontal assault on Missionary Ridge would be suicidal unless it was simultaneously supported by flanking attacks by Hooker’s and Sherman’s forces. As the morning progressed, Hooker’s force was slowed by the burned bridges across Chickamauga Creek, and Sherman’s force attacked the eastern end of the Confederate line. Although outnumbered five to one, Cleburne’s division managed to repulse Sherman’s onslaught.
In the center, between the advances of Hooker’s and Sherman’s forces, sat the Army of the Cumberland. Most of those soldiers had been routed by the Confederates in the Battle of Chickamauga and had suffered continued taunts from the newly arrived forces of Hooker and Sherman. At 1530 hours, Grant received word that Sherman’s attack had failed. Worried that Bragg might be reinforcing his right at Sherman’s expense, he ordered Thomas to advance and take the Army of Tennessee’s first line of defense for Missionary Ridge, the rifle pits at the base of the ridge – and to halt there and wait for further orders. The Federals attacked, pushing the Confederates from their rifle pits; but now they came under fire from the second two lines of rifle pits farther up the ridge, and there was no order to advance or fall back. Fortunately for the Federals, the extensive enemy artillery at the top of Missionary Ridge had been poorly emplaced, and the Confederate cannoneers could not depress their tubes far enough to fire on the attackers. Confederate infantrymen continued to pour rifle fire onto the Federals. Unwilling to sit there as stationary targets, Thomas’s troops recommenced the attack without orders, well aware that Hooker’s and Sherman’s troops were watching them, shouting “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” as they clawed their way up the faces of Missionary Ridge toward the entrenched Confederates. The Federal assault was disorganized but effective. Ultimately reaching the top, the Federals overwhelmed and sent fleeing what should have been an impregnable Confederate defense.
The capture of Missionary Ridge is one of the Civil War’s most stirring events. A Federal officer remembered: “Little regard was given to formation. Each battalion formed a triangular shape, the colors at the apex….(a) color bearer dashes ahead of the line and falls. A comrade grasps the flag….He, too falls….Then another picks it up….waves it defiantly, and as if bearing a charmed life, advances steadily to the top….”
At first Grant was furious that his orders had not been carried out precisely. Thomas watched the assault worriedly, knowing that if it failed he would be blamed. However, by 1630 hours the Confederate defensive line broke, the panicked defenders in headlong flight. The Army of Tennessee abandoned Missionary Ridge and retreated eastward in disarray to the Chickamauga River (a.k.a. South Chickamauga Creek). During the night, Bragg ordered the Army of Tennessee to retreat toward Chickamauga Station (today the site of Lovell Airfield, i.e., Chattanooga Municipal Airport), and the following day, the 26th, the battered army began retreating in two columns, taking separate routes toward Dalton, Georgia. Cleburne’s division was assigned the dismal duty of rear guard. Federal pursuit of the retreating Confederates resulted in minor battles at Chickamauga Station, at Shepherd’s Run in Hickory Valley, at Cat Creek (Mackey Branch) in old Concord community, and at Graysville, Georgia. Coincidentally, the date, 26 November 1863, was the first official Thanksgiving Day of the United States of America.
The Federal pursuit ordered by Grant was soundly repulsed at Ringgold Gap, Georgia; but that is the beginning of a whole new tour.
Confederate casualties in the Battles for Chattanooga totaled 6,667 (361 killed, 2,160 wounded, 4,146 missing, primarily prisoners) of about 44,000 engaged, and Federal losses were 5,824 (753 killed, 4,722 wounded, 349 missing) of about 56,000 engaged. When a Federal chaplain asked Thomas whether the dead should be sorted according to state, Thomas relied, “Mix ’em up! I’m tired of States’ rights!” So catastrophic to the Confederate cause were the Battles for Chattanooga that Bragg asked to be relieved of his command. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee.
One of the two major armies of the Confederacy had been routed. Chattanooga was controlled by the Federals, who would use it as a logistics and supply base not only for the Army of the Cumberland but also for Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign. Grant had won his final battle in the Western Theater. In March 1864 he would be promoted to Lieutenant General and given command of all Federal armies.
The 3,000-acre Lookout Mountain Battlefield comprises historical markers, monuments, hiking trails, and gorgeous scenic vistas. Point Park, at the top of the mountain, is the battlefield’s most prominent feature, offering overlooks of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River valley. Across the street from Point Park is the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center, which houses, among various excellent exhibits, James Walker’s famous 13′ x 33′ painting “Battle of Lookout Mountain” (a.k.a. “Battle Above the Clouds”). Outside the entrance to Point Park is a commercial enterprise, Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map & Museum, which is worth a visit. Its large three-dimensional electronic map of the Civil War history of Chattanooga features 5,000 miniature soldiers and hundreds of light and sound effects. The establishment includes a very good relics and weapons collection and a decent Civil War-oriented bookstore, as well as the usual array of tourist souvenir items for sale. To reach Lookout Mountain Battlefield, take Interstate Highway 24 to Exit 178 where signs will lead you to Lookout Mountain. At Lookout Mountain, other signs will lead you to Point Park.
But we came to Chattanooga to tour four battlefields. We have seen Chickamauga Battlefield and Lookout Mountain Battlefield. What about Missionary Ridge Battlefield and Orchard Knob Battlefield? We are about to undergo more education in how well our fellow citizens remember the war that helped forged our nation and venerate the memory of the thousands who died on that war’s battlefields. Our first lesson came at Murfreesboro, where Stones River National Military Park preserves and protects some of the key sites of the Battle of Stones River and a citizen’s group works to regain more of the original battlefield. Our second lesson came at Tullahoma and Wartrace where the Battle of Hoover’s Gap – one of the most important of the Civil War – has been generally ignored by all but a handful of locals. That is not all bad: We were able to view the land much as it actually was when the battle was fought, something places such as Franklin are striving to restore and places such as Nashville have lost forever.
Now we are going to visit Missionary Ridge Battlefield, one of the best-kept secrets of Chattanooga because what is left of it sits at the summit of one of the city’s most affluent and exclusive neighborhoods. Missionary Ridge, about three miles from downtown Chattanooga, rises nearly 500 feet above the valley with near-vertical faces. The ridge extends north to south from the northernmost part of Chattanooga several miles farther into the northern point of Georgia. Varying in width from as few as 20 feet to more than 700 feet, the crest knifes through the heart of the city, separating downtown Chattanooga from suburbia. It is named for its proximity to the former Brainerd Mission to the Cherokee Indians.
The transformation of Missionary Ridge from battlefield to expensive community began in the 1890s with the Federal Government building serpentine Crest Road in response to the many veterans of the Battle of Missionary Ridge (Confederate and Federal alike), and their descendants, returning to that battleground, often as members of this-or-that Missionary Ridge Association, to renew their lifelong bonds with that magnificent feat of arms. Hardie’s 1897 Historical Guide describes Missionary Ridge thus: “The government has built along its crest one of the most beautiful driveways….[from which] you can obtain a splendid view of the city.” Chattanooga’s wealthiest citizens were quick to take advantage of the excellent access afforded by Crest Drive and put their architects to work. By the early 1900s, fine homes were springing up along Crest Drive, and side roads were being built to expand the real estate possibilities.
Today, a variety of historical plaques, monuments, artillery pieces, and such greet the visitor. Most are in small enclaves that are part of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, but as we ascend Crest Drive we are startled to find many such pieces in private yards. Even more astonishing, and quite macabre (the author found it unsettling), are the graves of Confederate soldiers carefully maintained as parts of residents’ lawns. At the summit of Crest Drive is a small park, once the citadel of Confederate defenders, from which one can enjoy dizzying views of Chattanooga, the encircling Appalachian Mountains, and the Tennessee River as it snakes its way through the city. Stone markers have been erected there indicating where each Federal unit clambered up the nearly vertical faces to displace the Confederates, as well as other monuments and historical plaques. But for all of this, Missionary Ridge stands today as an example of what land development greed, and the influence of the wealthy, can do to a Civil War battlefield.
Crest Drive is a narrow (by modern standards) two-lane street. We can get directions to Missionary Ridge – signs leading to the ridge are few and small, probably intentionally so – at the Chickamauga or Lookout Mountain Visitor Centers, but it still would be beneficial to invest in a Chattanooga street map. The same is true for reaching Orchard Knob Park.
Orchard Knob Park is owned and theoretically maintained by the National Park Service and is part of Chickamauga & Chattanooga Military Park. It is, as noted earlier, the low hill taken 23 November 1863 from the Confederates holding it by the Federal Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. There are representative artillery pieces where the Confederate defensive line was established, and there are numerous markers and monuments showing where various units fought for this hillock. We can stand at the exact spot where Thomas and Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant watched transfixed as Army of the Cumberland troops, ordered to take the first line of Confederate rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, spontaneously continued the assault, scrambling and scratching their ways to the top of the ridge. Although Thomas had not ordered such an attack, as commander of the victorious troops he was lauded for his leadership. That Thomas was thoroughly honest and self-effacing is attested to by his fervent (and successful) efforts to avoid having a statue of himself erected in either the Chickamauga Battlefield or in Chattanooga.
Lamentably, Orchard Knob is another victim of land development, the once-large battlefield having been steadily reduced by housing expansion to a one-city-block square hillock. Orchard Knob Battlefield is now surrounded by private houses. The terrain around the battlefield was leveled, and the hill is supported by a concrete retaining wall. The high iron fence around the battlefield needed painting in 2007, and trash was scattered on the sidewalks along the outside of the retaining wall, with the wind making sure that some found its way onto the battlefield. The National Park Service has vowed to clean and refurbish Orchard Knob, but nothing had been done at last inspection. One wag suggested that in its current condition the battlefield is a fit memorial to the dashed hopes of the Confederacy, but in truth it is as much an insult to those brave soldiers who defended it as to the troops who took it from them. ●