Battle of Lookout Mountain, 24 November 1863

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American Civil War battle that formed part of General Grant's campaign to lift the siege of Chattanooga. Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga had allowed General Braxton Bragg to besiege Chattanooga. The town was overlooked by Missionary Ridge to the east and Lookout Mountain to the west. From these two vantage points, Bragg had been able to impose a close blockade on the city, forcing all supplies to use a sixty mile diversion through the mountains north of the Tennessee River.

Lookout Mountain

Lincoln had turned to U. S. Grant to solve the crisis. On 23 October he had arrived in Chattanooga to find a plan already in place. He authorised this plan, and by 29 October his troops had created the 'Cracker line', a supply line that passed along the western edge of Lookout Valley, to the west of Lookout Mountain.

One result of this action was to place a large Federal force of three divisions in Lookout Valley, under the command of General Hooker. This force was essential as long as Grant needed the cracker line, but by mid-November he was ready to launch his attack on Bragg's main position on Missionary Ridge. Sufficient supplies had been taken to Chattanooga to allow him to risk the temporary loss of the cracker line while he launched his attack, and so he planned to move Hooker into Chattanooga Valley, on the other side of Lookout Mountain. If Grant's attack on Missionary Ridge succeeded, then the Confederate forces on Lookout Mountain would be forced to withdraw or surrender, while if it failed the line could always be re-established.

Grant's initial plan was for Hooker to fight his way across the mountain. He then changed his mind, and ordered Hooker to use the bridges across the Tennessee River to bypass Lookout Mountain. Finally, rising waters in the river made the pontoon bridge at Brown's Ferry unsafe for large numbers of troops, and Grant reverted to his original plan.

The northern slopes of Lookout Mountain rise 1,400 feet from the Tennessee River to the summit peak. The western slope is rugged and tree-lined until close to the top, where the last thirty feet or so rise almost vertically to the summit plateau. The railroad west from Chattanooga runs along the river at the base of the northern face of the mountain, crossing Lookout Creek close to the Tennessee River.

The Confederate lines across Chattanooga Valley met the Tennessee River just to the east of Lookout Mountain. On the western slopes the Confederate positions were manned by about 1,000 men, with pickets down to Lookout Creek. The key to the Confederate position was not really the summit of the mountain, but the northern slope, round where the Chattanooga Creek entered the Tennessee. It was this northern slope that Hooker would need to clear if he was to make contact with the rest of the Federal army in Chattanooga. The northern slope is sometimes described as 'vertical' or 'sheer'. A quick examination of the map (or a look at any photographs) will show that this is not the case. The lower slopes near the Tennessee River are indeed very steep, but only for around two tens of a mile. The rest of the lower slopes are relatively gentle, until the last few hundred feet rise sharply towards the cliffs that protect the summit. At the base of the northern tip of the upper slope is Cravens House, built in 1855 by Robert Cravens, a local industrialist.

Hooker certainly had enough men. His three divisions came to around 10,000 men. To oppose him, Bragg could only spare three brigades (probably around 3,000 men). The thousand men on the western slopes were supported by artillery batteries on the top of the mountain. Their main defences had been built at the north western base of the mountain where they could control the road and railroad west. Another set of Confederate defences ran east from just below the summit towards Chattanooga Creek, with guns facing north towards the Tennessee River to stop river traffic.

Hooker decided to bypass the western defences. His plan was greatly aided by a local weather phenomenon. Some days a layer of fog forms about half way down the mountain. The top half of the mountain remains entirely clear, but anything below that is hidden. This is what happened on the morning of 24 November, giving the battle the alternative name of the 'Battle above the Clouds'.

Hooker sent Geary's division on a march up Lookout Valley to Wauhatchie, where the creek could be forded. At the same time his other divisions moved against a bridge close to where the railroad crossed the creek. For some time Geary's division was hidden from the view of the Confederate defenders of the mountain by the fog. They were able to overwhelm the small picket at the ford, and crossed over at about 8.00 a.m.

Once they were on the mountain slope they were soon spotted. The Confederates formed a new line down the slope of the mountain, from the base of the palisades at the summit down to their defences in the valley. Geary's men did the same, and advanced towards them. Meanwhile one brigade was attacked the road bridge, and another was building a pontoon bridge about half a mile further up the creek. At around 11.00 a.m. Geary's men reached this pontoon bridge, and the rest of Hooker's command was safe to cross over.

The heaviest fighting of the day now started. Between noon and 2.00 p.m. the heavily outnumbered Confederates fell back slowly across the northern slopes of the mountain, until they reached Cravens House. Here they received reinforcements and were able to hold a line. At the same time Hooker reported that he was short of ammunition and that his men were close to exhaustion (having climbed most of a 2,000 foot high mountain while fighting a battle one can understand this!). However, his men had achieved their main aim. At the base of the mountain Hooker's men were now in contact with troops from Chattanooga near the mouth of Chattanooga Creek.

There was no more significant fighting on Lookout Mountain. Overnight the armies camped around Chattanooga had been able to see the two lines of campfires facing each other up the slopes of the mountain, but Bragg now decided that he needed all of his men on Missionary Ridge, and so the troops on Lookout Mountain were withdrawn overnight. The next morning eight men from the 8th Kentucky Infantry scaled the palisades, found the Confederates gone, and raised the Stars and Stripes at the summit, surely not an encouraging sight for Bragg's men on Missionary Ridge, about to face Grant's main attack.

Both sides suffered similar casualties on Lookout Mountain. Federal losses were 81 killed out of 629 total casualties. About half of the Confederate troops on the western slopes of the mountain were killed or captured. In Civil War terms, Lookout Mountain was barely a battle, but its dramatic location and the famous fog have gained it a great deal of fame. It was effectively a drawn battle. While Hooker's men had cleared a route into Chattanooga Valley, that was not their main aim. Grant's plan for 25 November required Hooker's men to assault Bragg's left flank on Missionary Ridge as early as possible. Instead, they were to be delayed crossing the valley, and arrived at Missionary Ridge far too late to play an important part in the battle.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 May 2006), Battle of Lookout Mountain, 24 November 1863 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_lookout_mountain.html

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