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Brown's Ferry were reinforcing Chattanooga directly, and as a cover for both Sherman's movement and any movement of Hooker on their left at Lookout.
Amid these disappointments, word came through a deserter, on the night of the 22d, that Bragg was preparing to fall back. Grant was unwilling to allow him to do this in good order. On the morning of the 23d he instructed Thomas to make a demonstration to ascertain the truth of the report, saying, "that if Bragg is really falling back, Sherman can commence at once to lay his pontoons at the mouth of South Chickamauga, and we can save a day."
Thomas' demonstration was ready by 2 P. M. of the 23d, and
it was prepared on an elaborate scale. Granger's Fourth Corps was pushed towards the enemy's position a mile beyond Fort Wood. His right was supported by Palmer's Fourteenth, and his centre and left. by Howard's corps. The heavy guns from Fort Wood, and the artillery from smaller works, opened fire on the Confederates entrenched on the steep faces of Missionary Ridge. The cannon at Moccasin Point, below, opened on the enemy in their strong positions on Lookout, and the response was vigorous from these embattled heights. Under cover of this intense fire the deployment and advance of the Federals went on so regularly and deliberately as to give to the enemy the impression that a grand review was in progress. At last the skirmishers came in contact with the Confederate pickets along the foot-hills of Missionary Ridge, and drove them back up the eminences into their first line of rifle pits. Wood's division of Granger's command followed rapidly in the face of a severe
musketry fire and, capturing some two hundred prisoners, were in possession of the enemy's first lines before they could recover from their surprise or be reinforced from the main works on the ridge. In fifteen minutes, Sheridan, with another of Granger's divisions, fell in on Wood's right, and completed the capture of the entire advance lines of the Confederates. This left the enemy nothing west of the ridge and below its summits but a line of rifle pits at its base. It gave to Grant a strong point, called Orchard Knoll, and the low range of hills running south, about half way between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge proper. These were fully occupied by Granger's corps during the night, and also by Howard's. Breastworks were thrown up, artillery was placed, and the whole front was strongly picketed. Thus two strong army corps lay entrenched a full mile in advance of the Federal position of the day before, and on ground occupied by the enemy. The casualties were small, not exceeding one hundred in killed and wounded.
Had Bragg intended to retreat? This demonstration said, no. But he had started Buckner's division to help Longstreet, on the 22d, and another also, which were speedily recalled. Grant was at last relieving Burnside. He was doing vastly more. Perhaps no similar move ever had such a moral effect on contending armies. The Confederates felt secure in their apparently impregnable positions till this moment. The advance was a surprise. Its success was in the nature of a stunning blow. It shook their prestige, introduced the thought of danger, and began the work of demoralization. On the other hand, it diffused an assurance of victory through the Federal forces, gave them that action for which they had pined, and that opportunity for wiping out the stain of Chickamauga for which they had longed. They were as if under an inspiration of faith in their commander, their officers, and themselves, while their cause needed just such a triumph as they felt the near future must yield.
The destruction of the pontoon bridge at Brown's Ferry below, and the failure of Sherman to promptly get his army to the north side of the Tennessee, revived in Grant's mind the original intent to make his move on the enemy's left at Lookout a bold and decisive one. Therefore all the forces in Lookout Valley, and south of the river at that point, were brought into requisition for a movement in conjunction with his own at Chattanooga. Hooker had there about ten thousand men, embracing Osterhaus' division of the Fourteenth Corps, Cruft's of the Fourth, and Geary's of the Twelfth. None of these divisions had ever been associated in battle. Geary's represented the Army of the Potomac; Cruft's, the Army of the Cumberland; Osterhaus', the Army of the Tennessee. They would vie with each other in the perilous task now before them.
It will be recollected that a Federal force under Stevenson had already gotten a foothold on the west side of Lookout close to the Tennessee, and where Brown's Ferry could be protected. All the rest of the western slope, overlooking Lookout Valley and the Raccoon ranges further west, as well as the summits, were in the hands of the Confederates, and all strongly fortified with redoubts, redans, rifle-pits, abattis and stone walls. Behind these were seven thousand men. At the base of the mountains runs Lookout creek, which formed the western edge of the Confederate lines. Beyond the narrow valley at the foot of Raccoon Mountain was. was Hooker's encampment.
Simultaneously with Grant's splendid move at Chattanooga, Hooker swept from his camps upon the enemy along Lookout creek and drove him from his first lines. Then Geary's division began to ascend the steep mountain sides, the men pulling themselves up by vines and branches, propping themselves with their guns, scrambling and climbing amid obstructing rocks and stones, dislodging the enemy wherever found,
for his artillery was of no account, and even the men in the rifle-pits could not use their weapons effectively in so close an attack on those steep hillsides. Geary was soon joined by other forces, and the victorious. columns pressed on amid obstacles of a most extraordinary character. As the summits were neared the enemy's resistance became more stubborn and his fire more deadly. Still the Federals pressed on, gaining point after point, fighting for the peaks and for the little plateau facing the Tennessee, which was really the Confederate centre on Lookout, as its army faced at first. After two or three sharp conflicts this plateau was cleared and Hooker had a front on the bluffs overlooking the Tennessee, where had frowned for weeks the Confederate batteries.
But now, 2 P. M., the battle had to cease. The clouds settled heavily down and enveloped these summits so as to give the appearance of darkness. But if Hooker could no longer fight he could hold what he had. He therefore made himself strong against attack, and worked his lines eastward toward Chattanooga. At five they reached the eastern edge of the mountain, overlooking the town, and found a brigade fighting its way upward to meet them. This was Carlin's brigade, sent out by Grant to open communications with Hooker as soon as he should round the peaks of Lookout, and begin to force his way eastward. The lines met. Lookout was won. Hooker sent Grant word that "His lines were impregnable and commanded the enemy's defences with an enfilading fire." Thus by the night of the 24th of November the Federal army had an unbroken line of communication from Lookout Mountain through Chattanooga and to the north end of Missionary Ridge.