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Cumberland, the other gave it to Major-General George H. Thomas. Thomas was chosen. Stanton and Grant arrived at Louisville together, where the former found a dispatch from Mr. C. A. Dana, afterward Assistant Secretary of War, to the effect that it was feared Rosecrans would evacuate Chattanooga.
Grant was therefore advised to assume command at once, and relieve Rosecrans before the disaster could occur. He telegraphed his assumption of command immediately, assigned Thomas to the Department of the Cumberland, and on October 19th started by rail for Chattanooga.
Let us glance at the new destination. Three great States, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, approach each other at, or near, where several of the Cumberland Ranges of mountains cluster. Here the Tennessee river breaks through from the east, twisting and winding amid deep gorges, dashing vexatiously against perpendicular barriers till it finds egress westward into a more fertile and less picturesque region.
At a sharp bend of the river in the midst of the mountains lies a little bowl or valley of the area of five or six square miles. On the north is the river, on the southeast the now celebrated Missionary Ridge, on the southwest the Lookout ranges. To the south runs off a ravine or gap. The lofty crest overlooking all is Chattanooga, or the “ Eagle's Nest." The river gives access to this sequestered spot, eastward and westward; the natural gap gives access from the south. The through railroads from Richmond and Charleston to Memphis, Nashville and St. Louis, seek this river route. So do those from south to north, from Mobile, Atlanta, and on to Knoxville, Richmond and Washington. They meet at the “Eagle's Nest,” and there the town of Chattanooga sprang up. The whole region is a mighty bulwark, and the town a gateway between North and South. In war, its strategic importance could not be over-estimated, and especially to the Confederacy, for here centered those long food and troop lines,
which enabled the States of the southwest to come up to the rescue of Virginia and the Confederate capital. In the hands of a Federal army it looked right into the cotton fields and gave access to the gulf. It was a coveted point from the first, and its possession had been dreamed of in the strategy of more than one department commander.
In June, 1863, Rosecrans marched an army of sixty thousand men from Murfreesboro, Tenn., crossed the Tennessee river at Stevenson, threw part of his army south of Bragg's forces at Chattanooga, and thus compelled him to evacuate the stronghold and retreat southward to Chickamauga. There Bragg was reinforced, and there he pounced on Rosecrans, beating him in a battle, September 19th and 20th, in which the Federals lost thirty-six cannon and sixteen thousand men, and compelling his retreat back to Chattanooga, where he built stout fortifications.
The Confederates followed. Bragg's forces occupied Missionary Ridge, south and east of the town. Westward, overlooking the valley and river and controlling the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad by which supplies were brought to the Federal army, lay Lookout Mountain. This Rosecrans abandoned to the enemy, and was from that moment besieged, except as communications could be kept up by wagons with Bridgeport beyond the mountains by an almost impassible wagon-road. The whole command was put on half rations. · Three thousand wounded soldiers lay suffering in the camps, Forage for horses and mules could not be obtained, and ten thousand animals died. Retreat was impossible unless the artillery was abandoned. The enemy's cavalry had found a way to intercept the provision wagons from Bridgeport. Ammunition was so low as scarcely to suffice for another battle-one-half a supply. Here the army of the Cumberland lay in the hot sun and chilly nights of September, 1863, without food, with few tents, with half a supply of ammunition, with few
blankets and no extra clothing, suffering from all the dire effects of defeat and hasty retreat from Chickamauga. This was the situation when Grant took the command on October 19th, 1863.
His first order to Thomas after giving him command of the army of the Cumberland was “ to hold Chattanooga at all hazards; I will be there as soon as possible." To which the reply came,
We'll hold the town till we starve." Grant reached Bridgeport by rail and was compelled to cross the mountains by a circuitous route, and after night, amid a drenching rain, which made the ground slippery. His horse fell and bruised him severely, which greatly intensified the pain he was already suffering from the fall in New Orleans.
He arrived in Chattanooga on the night of October 23d, and immediately set about to rescue the army from its peril and prepare it for final victory. Indeed this he had been doing all the way from Louisville, for on his arrival at Nashville on the 20th, he telegraphed to Burnside at Knoxville : “ Have you tools for fortifying ? Important points in cast Tennessee should be put in condition to be held by the least number of men, as soon as possible." And to Admiral Porter, at Cairo, he sent word : “ Sherman's advance was at Eastport on the 15th. The sooner a gunboat can be got to him the better. Boats must now be on the way from St. Louis to go up the Tennessee to Sherman." And then to Thomas: “Should not large working parties be put upon the road between Bridgeport and Chattanooga at once?” Arriving at Bridgeport, he telegraphed the commissary at Nashville : “ Send to the front, as speedily as possible, vegetables for the army. Beans and hominy are especially required.” Thus before he got on the ground he was taking in the situation with the grasp of a great military genius and providing for an emergency which he knew could only be met by prompt and herculean effort. An army had to be saved from such a dilemma as no other Federal
found itself in during the war, and if possible by winning a victory.
On his arrival in Chattanooga he went at once to Thomas' headquarters, and learned the situation as that modest but most able general gave it. He found it truly deplorable. There had been no exaggeration of the plight of the
Federal forces, and as to the Confederates, there they were to speak for themselves on all the commanding ridges and in all the impregnable passes of the mountains. After approving of Thomas' order to Hooker, who had been sent from the army of the Potomac with two corps, to concentrate at Bridgeport and hold the Tennessee as well as the main wagon road between that place and Chattanooga, he reported to Halleck at Washington, and asked him to confirm his order giving Sherman control of the army of the Tennessee, his own (Grant's) old command.
The next day he and Thomas made a reconnoissance of the place. To clear the river and wagon road from Chattanooga to Bridgeport, and to hold both, thus opening an avenue for supplies, was a matter of the first necessity. To effect this the ingenuity of both Grant and Thomas was taxed to the utter
most, for at least seven miles of the river was under the fire of the Confederate pickets. But at a point nine miles below, and around the sharp bend in the river which makes the peninsula of Moccasin Point, was a place called Brown's Ferry. The enemy's lines did not extend that far. If that point could be occupied much else might be effected. What?
The base of supplies would be brought within nine miles of Chattanooga, while now they were thirty-five miles away at Bridgeport. On the south side of the river at Brown's Ferry was a valley which ran down between Raccoon Mountain on the west, and Lookout Mountain on the cast. This valley could be occupięd, and then the ranges of Lookout on that side could be scaled, for there was no enemy there, they being intent on watching the river front, overlooking Moccasin Point, and the projections overshadowing Chattanooga. This would have much of the effect of a flank movement, and once a foothold was gained on these westerly spurs of Lookout, the river could be controlled by artillery for several of the intervening seven miles, or indeed all the way, for the Federals were in possession of the Moccasin Point peninsula, though directly overlooked by the Confederates on the Lookout crags. Again, a force could be sent down this valley from Brown's Ferry, or down the Raccoon Valley further west, and passing through gaps in the ranges, could debouch into Lookout Valley quite in the rear of the Confederates.
A movement was projected and orders issued. Everything depended on celerity and secrecy. The movement consisted of three parts. It was necessary that all should fit. On the night of October 26th, two days after orders were issued, all was ready. General Smith had command of the river expedition with four thousand picked men. Palmer marched over two thousand of these north of the river to Jasper, and crossed at Kelley's Ferry to the south side. Hazen embarked eighteen hundred on sixty pontoon boats, and under cover of