How Sherman Won Lookout Mountain

by Ned B. on October 18, 2012 · 2 comments

Yes, you read the title right.  I am going to put forth an alternative argument about the capture of Lookout Mountain. While the dramatic story of Hooker’s advance around the face of the mountain might be well known, I think the cause and effect is not.

On the morning of November 23rd the Confederates had three divisions holding the area between Lookout creek and Chattanooga creek that encompassed the north end of Lookout Mountain.  The morning of November 25th the U S had three divisions holding the same area.  Thus during that 48 hours period, control of Lookout Mountain changed hands.

Did William Tecumseh Sherman win the Battle of Lookout Mountain for the North? Read on to find out.

The first Confederate division moved away late on November 23, when Bragg ordered Walker’s division from Lookout Mountain around to the far right.  Bragg also ordered Hardee, one of Bragg’s two Corps commanders, to hand over command of the forces around Lookout Mountain and take over the situation at the north end of Missionary ridge.  The rest of the force around Lookout was to “hold itself in readiness to move at a moment’s notice”. Hooker hadn’t done anything yet but Bragg already had begun to withdraw from Lookout Mountain. 1

The Confederate position around Lookout Mountain was now weaker and Gen. Stevenson (left in command after Hardee went to the right) saw what was to come: “I had not the slightest doubt that his purpose was to attract our attention, induce us to concentrate on our right, thereby weakening our left, and thus render the acquisition of Lookout Mountain practicable for him.” 2 Nonetheless, the Confederates held onto the mountain as long as they could.  When Hooker advanced on the morning of the 24th  along the western slope of the mountain, only one brigade was there to block him and it had been ordered to fall back if pressed.  But Hooker’s success was short lived.  Once other brigades were brought into line, Hooker’s advance was stopped and the Confederates held “the position all the afternoon and well after night fall”. 3

But then Bragg ordered everyone from the mountain. During the afternoon Bragg became concerned about what was happening at the other end of his line, where Sherman was advancing to seize the heights at the north end of the ridge.  At 2:30 in the afternoon, Bragg wrote an order to Stevenson to abandon Lookout Mountain and bring his command across Chattanooga Creek.4  Stevenson held his position until after dark, then withdrew as directed.   With the opposing force drawn away, Hooker was able to complete his capture of the Mountain.

As dramatic as Hooker’s success might appear, Hooker’s opponent had been reacting to events elsewhere — the threat to Missionary Ridge from Sherman — and had already prepared to withdraw before Hooker had done anything.

  1. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 31 (Part II) page 673 , 674, and 675
  2. page 718
  3. page 695 
  4. page 721 and 678

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan October 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Well-argued. Now comes a bigger challenge: arguing that Sherman’s failure at Tunnel Hill made Thomas’ breakthrough in the center of Missionary Ridge possible, and thus, that Sherman really deserves the credit for the success there (which is essentially what Grant argued forever afterwards)…

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Bummer October 21, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Grant’s singleness of purpose and his personal, as well as Mexican War experiences, gave him the daunting ability to accomplish what other military leaders in the Union Army were not mentally prepared to do.

“I never held a council of war in my life. I heard what men had to say–the stream of talk at headquarters,–but I made up my own mind, and from my written orders my staff got their first knowledge of what was to be done. No living man knew of plans until they matured and decided.”

“One of my superstitions had always been when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished.”

“In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins.”

Ulysses S. Grant

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