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.
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.