Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide with a Section on Chattanooga

By Steven E. Woodworth | Go to book overview

After Chattanooga

The collapse of the Confederate defenses atop Missionary Ridge was almost complete. Thomas's troops overran the center of Bragg's line, and Hooker's, having marched down from Lookout Mountain, across Chattanooga Creek on an improvised bridge, and up Missionary Ridge at Rossville Gap (where you turned left onto South Crest Road near the tall column of the Iowa Monument), beyond the Confederate left, crushed that end of the Army of Tennessee. Only at the north end of Missionary Ridge, the Confederate right, where Cleburne had held off Sherman all day at Tunnel Hill, did Confederate forces maintain their cohesion. Cleburne, using his own division and two others that Bragg had sent earlier in the day to his support, turned to face the threat of Union troops moving up the ridge from the south. His unbroken front -- along with Federal exhaustion and the gathering darkness -- stopped the Union advance. Then Cleburne and his force slowly withdrew, covering the disorderly retreat of the rest of the army. Most of the Federal troops and their commanders had had enough fighting for one day. An exception was the hard-driving Union division commander Philip Sheridan, who pressed on into the darkness and sparred with Cleburne's rear guard all the way to Chickamauga Creek (well downstream from the old battleground).

The Confederate army was routed, but it had escaped to fight again. This was largely because its line of retreat -- the bridges over Chickamauga Creek and the railroad running back toward Atlanta -- lay behind the Confederate right. That was the sector Grant had most wanted to smash, but Cleburne's skill and tenacity -- and the fighting qualities of his men -- had prevented that. Thus when the rest of the army broke, it had an open line of retreat, and Cleburne's force was well positioned to fend off Union pursuit.

Grant was already under considerable pressure from Washington to do something to assist Burnside, then facing a quasi-siege by Longstreet's force at Knoxville. For this reason Grant had intended to dispatch a major detachment to Knoxville as soon as Bragg was driven away from Chattanooga. Seeing the completeness of the Confederate rout, however, Grant changed his mind and decided to try a brief pursuit in hopes of seriously damaging or even destroying the beaten Rebel army.

Throughout the day after the battle, Thursday, November 26, his troops pressed after the retreating Confederates. On the twenty-seventh, Hooker's command came upon Cleburne, still commanding Bragg's rear guard and now posi-

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