part of a volume entitled History of the Ninety - Third Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry: From Organization To Muster Out --Statistics Compiled by Aaron Dunbar Sergeant, Company " B", Revised and Edited by Harvey M. Trimble, Adjutant
Submitted by Jeffrey MacAdam, to whom every reader should be grateful.
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Part 2 of 5 of Chapter V.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23RD, 1863.
"Let me show you a landscape that shall not fade out from 'the lidless eye of time' until long after we are all dead. A half mile from the eastern border of Chattanooga is a long swell of land sparsely sprinkled with houses, flecked thickly with tents, and red earthworks of Fort Wood, with its great guns frowning from the angles. Mounting the parapet and facing eastward you have a singular panorama. Away to your left is a shining elbow of the Tennessee, a lowland of woods, a long-drawn valley, glimpses of houses. At your right you have wooded undulations, with clear intervals, extending down and around to the valley at the eastern base of Lookout. From the Fort the smooth ground descends rapidly to a little plain, a sort of trough in the sea, then a fringe of oak woods, then an acclivity, sinking down to a second fringe of woods, until full in front of you, and three-quarters of a mile distant, rises Orchard Knob, a conical mound, once wooded, but now bald. Then ledges of rocks and narrow breadths of timber, and rolling sweeps of open ground, for two miles more, until the whole rough and stormy landscape seems to dash against Mission Ridge, three miles distant, that lifts like a seawall eight hundred feet high, wooded, rocky, precipitous, wrinkled with ravines. This is, in truth, the grand feature of the scene, for it extends north as far as you can see, with fields here and there cut down through the woods to the ground, and lying on the hillsides like brown linen to bleach; and you feel, as you look at them, as if they are in danger of slipping down the Ridge into the road at its base. And then it curves to the southwest, just leaving you a way out between it and Lookout Mountain. Altogether the rough, furrowed landscape looks as if the Titans had plowed and forgotten to harrow it. The thinly fringed summit of the Ridge varies in width from twenty to fifty feet, and houses looking like cigar-boxes are dotted along it. On the top of that wall are rebels and batteries; below the first pitch, three hundred feet down, are more rebels and batteries, and still below are their camps and rifle pits, sweeping five miles and more. At your right, and in the rear, is Fort Negley, the old 'Star' Fort of Confederate regime; its next neighbor is Fort King, under the frown of Lookout; and farther to the right is the battery of Moccasin Point. Finish out the picture on either hand with Federal earthworks and saucy angles, fancy the embarkment of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad drawn diagonally, like an awkward score, across the plain far at your feet, and I think you have the tremendous theater. And now what next, if not, in Hamlet's words, 'the play's the thing?'
"The Federal forces lay along the ridgy slope to the right and left of Fort Wood; the enemy's advance held Orchard Knob in force, and their breastworks and rifle pits seamed the landscape. At half past 12 o'clock, Major General Granger received an order to make a reconnaissance in force toward the base of Mission Ridge, and feel the enemy, supposed to be massing in our immediate front and on Lookout Mountain. It was a change of scene. There was to be no more use for the two lines of pickets that for so many days and nights had stood in friendly neighborhood, exchanged the jest and daily news, and sat at each other's fires. Ours were to be recalled; theirs were to be thrust back, and the thin veneering of battle's double front rudely torn away. At half past 12 the order came; at 1, two divisions of the Fourth Corps made ready to move; at ten minutes before 2, twenty-five thousand Federal troops were in line of battle. The line of skirmishers moved lightly out, and swept true as a sword-blade into the edge of the field. You should have seen that splendid line, two miles long, as straight and unwavering as a ray of light. On they went, driving in the pickets before them; shots of musketry, like the first great drops of summer rain upon a roof, pattered along the line. One fell here, another there, but still, like joyful heralds before a royal progress, the skirmishers passed on. From wood and rifle pit, from rocky ledge and mountain-top, forty-five thousand rebels watched these couriers bearing the gift of battle in their hands. The bugle sounded from Fort Wood, and the divisions of Wood and Sheridan began to move; the latter, out from the right, threatened a heavy attack; the former, forth from the left, dashed on into the rough road of the battle. Black rifle pits were tipped with fire; sheets of flame flashed out of the woods; the spatter of musketry deepened into volleys and rolled like muffled drums; hostile batteries opened from the ledges; the 'Rodmans' joined in from Fort Wood; bursting shells and gusts of shrapnel filled the air; the echoes roused up and growled back from the mountains, the rattle was a roar, and yet those gallant fellows moved steadily on; down the slope, through the wood, up the hill, straight for Orchard Knob as the crow flies, moved that glorious wall of blue.
"The air grew dense and blue; the gray clouds of smoke surged up the sides of the valley. It was a terrible journey they were making, those men of ours; and three-fourths of a mile in sixty minutes was splendid progress. They neared the Knob; the enemy's fire coverged; the arc of batteries poured in upon them lines of fire, like the rays they call a 'glory' about the head of Madonna and the Child, but they went up the rugged altar of Orchard Knob at the double-quick with a cheer; they wrapped, like a cloak, round an Alabama regiment that defended it, and swept them down on our side of the mound. Prisoners had begun to come in before; they streamed across the field like files of geese. Then on for a second altar, Brush Knob, nearly a half-mile to the northeast, and bristling with a battery; it was swept of foes and garished with Federal blue in thirty minutes.
"The Federal line had bent outward to the enemy, like Apollo's bow, and Howard's corps, at Wood's right, and Sheridan's division, at his left, swung out and cut new swaths, and left the edges even, as they went through this harvest-field of splendid valor and heroic death. At 4 o'clock the storm still beat on. From Orchard Knob, two twelve-pound Parrott guns, of Bridges' battery, enfiladed the enemy's rifle pits on the left, and thrice drove out the stubborn foe. At the same time, Hazen's division charged on the right, and carried the rifle pits there at the point of the bayonet, and swooped up three hundred prisoners. While the terrible play was going on here, Moccasin Point thundered at the camps in the valley at the south, and Lookout growled back at the Point; Fort King uttered a few words on its own account, and Fort Wood laid its shells where it pleased, their little rolls of smoke lying on the Ridge like fleeces of wool. And through all this action, you might have seen the white wings of the signal flags fluttering from Fort Wood, from away to the left of the line, from the brow of Orchard Knob, and from the left of the Raccoon Range across the town. On the summit of Mission Ridge, a little east of south from Fort Wood, was General Bragg. His horse was ready saddled for the mount. All these hours he watched the impetuous surge of Federal gallantry that swept his smoky legions out of their rifle pits, off from their vantage ground, over the swells, through the selvedge of woods, and into their defensive lines far up the slope of the Ridge.
"As thus the battle ends with the ended day. General Grant, the commanding genius of the great drama, is in the center of his new front, far out in the field, on Orchard Knob. The pickets again draw near together in a new neighborhood. No musket shot startles the silence, but behind the fresh breastworks, that have carried the heavy labors of soul and sinew far on into the night, the Federal forces sleep upon there arms; to wake, perhaps, to a half reluctant sense of another heavy day of struggle and of blood, for only the threshold of approach is swept, and there before them waits the enemy.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 24TH, A. D. 1863
The forces of General Sherman had no part in the movements and battle of the 23rd. They were still on the north side of the Tennessee River, behind the hills. General Ewing's division did not reach that position until late in the afternoon that day. In the meantime, the brigades of General Lightburn and Giles A. Smith, of Gen. Morgan L. Smith's division, had moved well up toward North Chickamauga Creek, taking the pontoon boats with them. At midnight, of that day, those two brigades put the pontoon boats into North Chickamauga Creek, and began the movement that was to land all of General Sherman's forces on the south side of the Tennessee River. A small force first crossed to the north bank of North Chickamauga Creek and captured all the rebel pickets there. Then dropped down that stream and into the Tennessee River, they quietly moved down and across the latter stream and landed on the south side of it, about a half mile below the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek. The night was damp and foggy. Immediately after the landing was made, General Lightburn took two regiments of the brigade, moved up South Chickamauga Creek, and captured every rebel picket, save one, between the Tennessee River and the mountain spur that laps the north end of Mission Ridge, that line being about two miles long. The other two regiments of that brigade executed a similar movement down the Tennessee River, on the south bank, and up Citico Creek to the left of the Federal line, as established the day before, and no rebel picket escaped them. Both these forces returned to the starting point just before daylight. In the meantime, by the pontoon boats and the steamer Dunbar, the remainder of Gen. Morgan L. Smith's division and all of Gen. John E. Smith's division had been landed on the south bank of the Tennessee, at the same point. The Ninety-Third Illinois crossed in the pontoon boats, and reached the south side just before daylight. The pontoon boats were now swung into place for the bridge, rapidly and noiselessly, and before 11 o'clock a.m. the bridge was completed, and troops and batteries were moving on it. The bridge was thirteen hundred fifty feet long. The construction of it was not excelled, either in time or manner, during the war. By 1 o'clock p.m., General Sherman's whole force had crossed to the south side of the river, and Gen. Jeff C. Davis' division was in position to co-operate, as a reserve force, in the movements about to be commenced against Mission Ridge. Before noon, General Howard had moved his forces to the left, and connected with the right of the forces of General Sherman. While the bridge was being constructed, the two divisions already on the south side of the river made a splendid line of rifle pits along their entire front, near to and parallel with the river. A heavy fog, or mist, filled the entire valley until noon, or a little later, and completely covered and concealed the movements of this army from the enemy. Twice, before noon, the lines of these two divisions, that first crossed the river, were advanced farther and farther out into the valley, to make room for the accumulating forces there, and two more lines of rifle pits were constructed all along their front. And so, when the fog and mist were lifted and cleared away, the enemy, with much surprise and great consternation, beheld the lines of that powerful army, nearly 20,000 strong, in battle array, threatening his extreme right flank. The valley beneath their feet, and behind them, was check-rowed with rifle pits, dotted all around with batteries, and covered with blue coats; and the whole force was still moving, straight as an arrow flies from the bow, for the mountain spur that laps the north end of Mission Ridge.
By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, that mountain spur and some lower hills beyond were gained and occupied, without loss. There was no considerable forces of the enemy north of the railroad tunnel. Later in the day, the enemy attempted to dislodge General Sherman's forces from their positions, and attacked the left. But they were quickly repulsed. Gen. Giles A. Smith was severely wounded in the engagement, and carried to the rear. The Army of the Tennessee was planted on that mountain spur, and those hills, to stay until the harvest should be gathered from Mission Ridge. And it did stay. That night those heights were fortified, batteries dragged up, by hand, to their summits and planted there, and everything made ready for the morrow, the last and final act of the great drama. And on the morrow, the defeat at Chickamauga was to be avenged; the backbone, the center, of the Confederacy was to be broken; a new star was to be set in the galaxy of heroic achievements, and the heart of the Nation prepared for its day of Thanksgiving, only just beyond.
And here we pause again to listen to the eloquent story of that whole day, all along the lines, as told by the matchless B. F. Taylor. He wrote:
"Tuesday broke cold and cheerless; it was a Scottish morning, and the air was dim with mist. Our wicked little battery on Orchard Knob had 'ceased from troubling;' Fort Wood was dumb, and not a voice from the 'Parrott' perches anywhere. Stray ambulances--those flying hospitals-- were making their way back to the town, and soldiers were digging graves on the hillsides. Interrogation points glittered in men's eyes as they turned an ear to the northeast and listened for Sherman. By and by a little fleet of soldier-laden pontoon-boats came drifting down the river. The boys in high feather tumbled out, the inevitable coffee kettle swinging from their bayonets. If a Federal soldier should be fellow traveler with Bunyan's Pilgrim, I almost believe that tin kettle of his would be heard tinkling to the very threshold of the 'Gate Beautiful.' 'Well, boys--what now! We're put down the pontoon--taken in the rebel pickets with out firing a gun--run the rebel blockade--drawn a shot--nobody hurt-- Sherman's column is half over--bully for Sherman!' Those fellows had been thirty hours without rest, and were as fresh hearted as dashing as so many thoroughbreds. They had wrought all night long with their lives in their hands, and not a trace of hardship or a breath of complaining.
"Perhaps it was 11 o'clock on Tuesday morning when the rumble of artillery came from the valley to the west of Lookout. Climbing Signal Hill, I could see volumes of smoke rolling to and fro, like clouds from a boiling caldron. The mad surges of tumult lashed the hills till they cried aloud, and roared through the gorges till you might have fancied all the thunders of a long summer tumbled into that valley together. And yet the battle was unseen. It was like hearing voices from the under world. Meanwhile it began to rain; skirts of mist trailed in Providence, kept their powder dry, and played on. It was the second day of the drama; it was the second act I was hearing; it was the touch on the enemy's left. The assault upon Lookout had begun! Glancing at the mighty crest crowned with a precipice, and now hung round about, three hundred feet down, with a curtain of clouds, my heart misgave me. It could never be taken.
"It was a formidable business they had in hand: to carry a mountain and scale a precipice near two thousand feet high, in the teeth of a battery and two entrenched brigades. But Hooker's design was admirable. Cruft's brigade was to move directly south along the western base of the mountain, while Hooker himself would remain in the valley, close under Lookout, and make a grand demonstration with small arms and artillery. The enemy, roused out by all this 'sound and fury,' were to come forth from their camps and works, high up the western side of the mountain, and descend to dispute Hooker's noisy passage; Cruft's brigade, when the road behind should deepen into 'confusion worse confounded,' was to turn upon its heel, move obliquely up the mountain upon the enemy's camps, in the enemy's rear, wheeled round the monster, and up to the white house, and take care of himself while he took Lookout.
"Hooker thundered, and the enemy came down like the Assyrian. Whittaker's brigade on the right, and Colonel Ireland's command on the left, having moved out from Wauhatchie, some five miles from the mountain, at 5 in the morning, pushed up to Chattanooga Creek, threw a bridge over it, made for Lookout Point, and there formed the right under the shelf of the mountain, the left resting on the creek. And then the play began. The enemy's camps were seized, his pickets surprised and captured, the strong works on the Point taken, and the Federal front moved on. Charging upon him, they leaped over his works as the wicked twin Roman leaped over his brother's mud wall, captured his artillery and a Mississippi regiment, and gained the white house. And there they stood, 'twixt heaven and--Chattanooga. But above them, grand and sullen, lifted the precipice; and they were men and not eagles. The way was strewn with natural fortifications, and from behind rocks and trees they delivered their fire, contesting inch by inch the upward way. The sound of the battle rose and fell; now fiercely renewed, and now dying away. And Hooker thundered on in the valley, and the echoes of his howitzers bounded about the mountains like volleys of musketry. That curtain of cloud was hung around the mountain by the God of battles-- even our God. It was the veil of the temple that could not be rent. A captured Colonel declared, that had the day been clear their sharpshooters would have riddled our advance like pigeons, and left the command without a leader; but friend and foe were wrapped in a seamless mantle, and two hundred will cover the entire Federal loss, while our brave mountaineers strewed Lookout with four hundred dead, and captured a thousand prisoners. Ah, I wish you had been here. It needed no glass to see it; it was only just beyond your hand. There, on the shorn side of the mountain, below and to the west of the white house, was the head of the Federal column! And there it held, as if it were riveted to the rocks, and the line of blue, a half mile long, swung slowly around from the left, like the index of a mighty dial, and swept up the brown face of the mountain. And there, in the center of the columns, fluttered the blessed flag! 'My God! what flag is that?' men cried. And up steadily it moved. I could think of nothing but a gallant ship-of-the-line grandly lifting upon the great billows and riding out the storm. It was a scene never to fade out. Pride and pain struggled in my heart for the mastery, but faith carried the day. I believe in the flag and took courage.
"The night was rapidly closing in, and the scene was growing sublime. The battery at Moccasin Point was sweeping the road to the mountain. The brave little fort at its left was playing like a heart in a fever. The cannon on the top of Lookout were pounding, away at their lowest depression. The flash of the guns fairly burned through the clouds; there was an instant of silence, here, there, yonder, and the tardy thunder again leaped out after the swift light. For the first time, perhaps, since that mountain began to burn beneath the gold and crimson sandals of the sun, it was in eclipse. The cloud of the summit and the smoke of the battle had met half way and mingled. Here was Chattanooga, but Lookout had vanished! It was Sinai over again with its thunderings and lightnings and thick darkness, and the Lord was on our side. Then the storm ceased, and occasional dropping shots told off the evening till half past 9, and then a crashing volley and a rebel yell and a desperate charge. It was their good-night to our boys; goodnight to the mountain. They had been met on their own vantage ground; they had been driven from their stronghold. The Federal foot touched the hill, indeed, but above still towered the precipice.
"At 10 o'clock a growing line of lights glittered obliquely across the breast of Lookout. It made our eyes dim to see it. It was the Federal autograph scored along the mountain. They were our campfires. Our unharmed heroes lay there upon there arms. Our wounded lay there all the dreary night of rain, unrepining and content. Our dead lay there, 'and surely they slept well.' At dawn, a regiment crept up among the rocky clefts, handing their guns one to another above, and stood at length upon the summit. Then, forming in line, threw out skirmishers, and advanced five miles to Summertown. Artillery and infantry had all fled in the night, nor left a wreck behind. The plan was opening as beautifully as a flower. General Sherman's apprehended approach upon the other extremity, had set the enemy's line all dressing to there right. Hardee, of 'Tactics' memory, who had been upon the mountain, moved round the line on Sunday, leaving two brigades and the attraction of gravitation, to wit, the precipice, to hold the left, yet farther depleted by the splendid march made upon the enemy's center on Monday. Then God let down a fold of his pavilion, our men were heroes, and the work was done. The capture afforded inexpressible relief to the army. There the enemy had looked down defiant, sentries pacing our very walls. Every angle of a Federal works, every gun, every new disposition of a regiment, was as legible as a page of an open book. You can never quite know how beautiful was that cordon of lights flung, like a royal order, across the breast of the mountain.
"One thing more, and all I shall try to give of the stirring story will have been told. Just as the sun was touching up the old Department of the Cumberland, Captain Wilson and fifteen men of the Eighth Kentucky, near where the gun had crouched and growled at all the land, waved there regimental flag from the crest of Lookout, in sight of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, the old 'North State' and South Carolina--waved it there, and the right of the Federal front, lying far beneath, caught a glimpse of its flutter, and a cheer rose to the top of the mountain, and ran from regiment to regiment, through whole brigades and broad divisions, till the boys away round in the face of Mission Ridge passed it along the line of battle. 'What is it? Our flag? Did I help put it there?' murmured a poor wounded fellow, and died without the sight.
"Oh, Flag glory-rifted!
To-day thunder drifted,
Like a flower of strange grace upon Lookout's grim surge,
On some Federal fold
A new tale shall be told,
And the record immortal emblazon thy verge!
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