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The capture of Mission Ridge.

The campaign of Chattanooga, in October and November, 1863, was as brilliant as it was brief. It was not the continuous “pounding” of Vicksburg, the dogged and obstinate fighting, and the terrible slaughter of the battles in Virginia in the spring and summer of 1864; but in dash, in skilful surmounting of obstacles, in brilliant and heroic achievement, it was surpassed by no campaign of the war. Each of its five engagements had something of special merit to entitle it to lasting remembrance; the adroitly managed surprise by which the command of the river was won, and the toilsome sixty miles' travel of the supply trains over the worst roads in the world reduced to ten miles over a good road, and the subsequent sharp but successful battle of Wauhatchie, in which the gray-haired hero, Geary, showed himself as skilful as he was daring, indicated that the general in command at Chattanooga was fully master of the situation. The capture of Lookout mountain by General Hooker; the conflict “above the clouds,” where the lurid light that flamed from Union and rebel cannon mimicked, with wonderful effect, the thunders of Heaven's own artillery, and where, with every struggle, the stars and stripes crept higher and higher toward that summit which overlooked so many battle fields, till the morning's light beheld them waving proudly from its highest point; the bold and rapid movement, by which, while marshalled, as the enemy supposed, for a dress parade, the Army of the Cumberland swept across the plain and captured Orchard Knob; that succession of fierce and [250] persistent struggles in which Sherman wrestled for the capture of Tunnel Hill, and by which he drew to that point so large a portion of Bragg's troops; and last and most glorious of all that fiery ascent of Mission Ridge, in which that noble Fourth Corps marched and climbed for a long hour through a furnace of flame, and after struggling up an ascent so steep that to climb it unopposed would task the stoutest energies, swept their enemies from its summit, and over all that broad vista disclosed from its summit, saw only a flying and utterly routed foe. Many writers have attempted to describe, and with varying success, this brilliant feat of arms, but none have succeeded so admirably as Mr. B. F. Taylor, of the “Chicago Journal,” himself an eye-witness of it. We give a portion of his description, which is as truthful as it is glowing:

The brief November afternoon was half gone; it was yet thundering on the left; along the centre all was still. At that very hour a fierce assault was made upon the enemy's left near Rossville, four miles down toward the old field of Chickamauga. They carried the Ridge; Mission Ridge seems everywhere — they strewed its summit with rebel dead; they held it. And thus the tips of the Federal army's wide-spread wings flapped grandly. But it had not swooped; the gray quarry yet perched upon Mission Ridge; the rebel army was terribly battered at the edges, but there full in our front it grimly waited, biding out its time. If the horns of the rebel crescent could not be doubled crushingly together, in a shapeless mass, possibly it might be sundered at its centre, and tumbled in fragments over the other side of Mission [251] Ridge. Sherman was halted upon the left; Hooker was holding hard in Chattanooga Valley; the Fourth Corps, that rounded out our centre, grew impatient of restraint; the day was waning; but little time remained to complete the commanding general's grand design; Gordon Granger's hour had come; his work was full before him.

And what a work that was to make a weak man falter and a brave man think! One and a half miles to traverse, with narrow fringes of woods, rough valleys, sweeps of open field, rocky acclivities, to the base of the ridge, and no foot in all the breadth withdrawn from rebel sight; no foot that could not be played upon by rebel cannon, like a piano's keys, under Thalberg's stormy fingers. The base attained, what then? A heavy rebel work, packed with the enemy, rimming it like a battlement. That work carried, and what then? A hill, struggling up out of the valley, four hundred feet, rained on by bullets, swept by shot and shell; another line of works, and then, up like a Gothic roof rough with rocks, a wreck with fallen trees, four hundred more; another ring of fire and iron, and then the crest, and then the enemy.

To dream of such a journey would be madness; to devise it a thing incredible; to do it a deed impossible. But Grant was guilty of them all, and Granger was equal to the work. The story of the battle of Mission Ridge is struck with immortality already; let the leader of the Fourth Corps bear it company.

That the centre yet lies along its silent line is still true; in five minutes it will be the wildest fiction. Let us take that little breath of grace for just one glance at the surroundings, since we shall have neither heart nor [252] eyes for it again. Did ever battle have so vast a cloud of witnesses? The hive shaped hills have swarmed. Clustered like bees, blackening the housetops, lining the fortifications, over yonder across the theatre, in the seats with the Catilines, everywhere, are a hundred thousand beholders. Their souls are in their eyes. Not a murmur can you heal. It is the most solemn congregation that ever stood up in the presence of the God of battles. I think of Bunker Hill, as I stand here; of the thousands who witnessed the immortal struggle; and fancy there is a parallel. I think, too, that the chair of every man of them will stand vacant against the wall to-morrow, and that around the fireside they must give thanks without him if they can.

At half-past 3, a group of generals, whose names will need no “Old Mortality” to chisel them anew, stood upon Orchard Knob. The hero of Vicksburg was there, calm, clear, persistent, far-seeing. Thomas, the sterling and steady; Meigs, Hunter, Granger, Reynolds. Clusters of humbler mortals were there, too, but it was any thing but a turbulent crowd; the voice naturally fell into a subdued tone, and even young faces took on the gravity of later years. Generals Grant, Thomas, and Granger conferred, an order was given, and in an instant the Knob was cleared like a ship's deck for action. At twenty minutes of four, Granger stood upon the parapet; the bugle swung idle at the bugler's side, the warbling fife and the grumbling drum unheard-there was to be louder talk-six guns, at intervals of two seconds, the signal to advance. Strong and steady his voice rang out: “Number or e, fire! Number two, fire! Number three, fire!” it seem — d to me the tolling of the [253] clock of destiny-and when at “Number six, fire!” the roar throbbed out with the flash, you should have seen the dead line that had been lying behind the works all day, all night, all day again, come to resurrection in the twinkling of an eye-leap like a blade from its scabbard, and sweep with a two-mile stroke toward the ridge. From divisions to brigades, from brigades to regiments, the order ran. A minute, and the skirmishers deploy; a minute, and the first great drops begin to patter along the line; a minute, and the musketry is in full play, like the crackling whips of a hemlock fire; men go down, here and there, before your eyes; the wind lifts the smoke and drifts it away over the top of the ridge; every thing is too distinct; it is fairly palpable; you can touch it with your hand. The divisions of Wood and Sheridan are wading breast deep in the valley of death.

I never can tell you what it was like. They pushed out, leaving nothing behind them. There was no reservation in that battle. On moves the line of skirmishers, like a heavy frown, and after it, at quick time, the splendid columns. At right of us, and left of us, and front of us, you can see the bayonets glitter in the sun. You cannot persuade yourself that Bragg was wrong, a day or two ago, when, seeing Hooker moving in, he said, “Now we shall have a Potomac review;” that this is not the parade he prophesied; that it is of a truth the harvest of death to which they go down. And so through the fringe of woods went the line. Now, out into the open ground they burst at the double-quick. Shell I call it a Sabbath day's journey, or a long one and a half mile? To me, [254] that watched, it seemed endless as eternity, and yet they made it in thirty minutes. The tempest that now broke upon their heads was terrible. The enemy's fire burst out of the rifle-pits from base to summit of Mission Ridge; five rebel batteries of Parrotts and Napoleons opened along the crest. Grape and canister and shot and shell sowed the ground with rugged iron, and garnished it with the wounded and the dead. But steady and strong our columns move on.

By heavens! It was a splendid sight to see,
For one who had no friend, no brother there ;

but to all loyal hearts, alas! and thank God, those men were friend and brother, both in one.

And over their heads, as they went, Forts Wood and Negley struck straight out like mighty pugilists right and left, raining their iron blows upon the Ridge from base to crest; Forts Palmer and King took up the quarrel, and Moccasin Point cracked its fiery whips and lashed the rebel left till the wolf cowered in its corner with a growl. Bridges' Battery, from Orchard Knob below, thrust its ponderous fists in the face of the enemy, and planted blows at will. Our artillery was doing splendid service. It laid its shot and shell wherever it pleased. Had giants carried them by hand they could hardly have been more accurate. All along the mountain's side, in the rebel rifle-pits, on the crest, they fairly dotted the Ridge. General Granger leaped down, sighted a gun, and in a moment, right in front, a great volume of smoke, like “the cloud by day,” lifted off the summit from among the rebel batteries, and hung motionless, kindling in the [255] sun. The shot had struck a caisson, and that was its dying breath. In five minutes away floated another. A shell went crashing through a building in the cluster that marked Bragg's headquarters; a second killed the skeleton horses of a battery at his elbow, a third scattered a gray mass as if it had been a wasp's nest.

And all the while our lines were moving on; they had burned through the woods and swept over the rough and rolling ground like a prairie fire. Never halting, never faltering, they charged up to the first rifle-pits with a cheer, forked out the rebels with their bayonets, and lay there panting for breath. If the thunder of guns had been terrible, it was now growing sublime; it was like the footfall of God on the ledges of cloud. Our forts and batteries still thrust out their mighty arms across the valley; the rebel guns that lined the arc of the crest full in our front, opened like the fan of Lucifer, and converged their fire down upon Baird, and Wood, and Sheridan. It was rifles and musketry; it was grape and canister; it was shell and schrapnel. Mission Ridge was volcanic; a thousand torrents of red poured over its brink and rushed together to its base. And our men were there, halting for breath! And still the sublime diapason rolled on. Echoes that never waked before, roared out from height to height, and called from the far ranges of Waldron's Ridge to Lookout. As for Mission Ridge, it had jarred to such music before; it was the “sounding-board” of Chickamauga; it was behind us then; it frowns and flashes in our faces to-day; the old Army of the Cumberland was there; it breasted the storm till the storm was spent, and left the ground it held; the old Army of the Cumberland is [256] here! It shall roll up the Ridge like a surge to its summit, and sweep triumphant down the other side. Believe me, that memory and hope may have made the heart of many a blue coat beat like a drum. “Beat,” did I say? The feverish heat of the battle beats on; fifty-eight guns a minute, by the watch, is the rate of its terrible throbbing. That hill, if you climb it, will appal you. Furrowed like a summer-fallow, bullets as if an oak had shed them; trees clipped and shorn, leaf and limb, as with the knife of some heroic gardener pruning back for richer fruit. How you attain the summit, weary and breathless, I wait to hear; how they went up in the teeth of the storm no man can tell!

And all the while rebel prisoners have been streaming out from the rear of our lines like the tails of a cloud of kites. Captured and disarmed, they needed nobody to set them going. The fire of their own comrades was like spurs in a horse's flank, and amid the tempest of their own brewing they ran for dear life, until they dropped like quails into the Federal rifle-pits, and were safe. But our gallant legions are out in the storm; they have carried the works at the base of the Ridge; they have fallen like leaves in winter weather. Blow, dumb bugles!

Sound the recall! “Take the rifle-pits,” was the order; and it is as empty of rebels as the tomb of the prophets. Shall they turn their backs to the blast? Shall they sit down under the eaves of that dripping iron? Or shall they climb to the cloud of death above them, and pluck out its lightnings as they would straws from a sheaf of wheat? But the order was not [257] given. And now the arc of fire on the crest grows fiercer and longer. The reconnoissance of Monday had failed to develop the heavy metal of the enemy. The dull fringe of the hill kindles with the flash of great guns. I count the fleeces of white smoke that dot the Ridge, as battery after battery opens upon our line, until from the ends of the growing arc they sweep down upon it in mighty Xs of fire. I count till that devil's girdle numbers thirteen batteries, and my heart cries out, “Great God, when shall the end be!” There is a poem I learned in childhood, and so did you: it is Campbell's “Hohenlinden.” One line I never knew the meaning of until I read it written along that hill! It has lighted up the whole poem for me with the glow of battle forever:

And louder than the bolts of heaven,
Far flashed the red artillery.

At this moment, General Granger's aides are dashing out with an order; they radiate over the field, to left, right, and front; “Take the Ridge if you can” --“Take the Ridge if you can” --and so it went along the line. But the advance had already set forth without it. Stout-hearted Wood, the iron-gray veteran, is rallying on his men; stormy Turchin is delivering brave words in bad English; Sheridan-“little Phil” --you may easily look down upon him without climbing a tree, and see one of the most gallant leaders of the age if you do — is riding to and fro along the first line of rifle-pits, as calmly as a chess-player. An aide rides up with the order. “Avery, that flask,” said the general. Quietly filling the pewter cup, Sheridan looks up at the [258] battery that frowns above him, by Bragg's headquarters, shakes his cap amid that storm of every thing that kills, when you could hardly hold out your hand without catching a bullet in it, and with a “how are you?” tosses off the cup. The blue battle flag of the rebels fluttered a response to the cool salute, and the next instant the battery let fly its six guns, showering Sheridan with earth. Alluding to that compliment with any thing but a blank cartridge, the general said to me in his quiet way, “I thought it ungenerous!” The recording angel will drop a tear upon the word for the part he played that day. Wheeling toward the men, he cheered them to the charge, and made at the hill like a bold riding hunter; they were out of the rifle-pits, and into the tempest, and struggling up the steep, before you could get breath to tell it, and so they were throughout the inspired line.

And now you have before you one of the most startling episodes of the war; I cannot remember it in words; dictionaries are beggarly things. But I may tell you they did not storm that mountain as you would think. They dash out a little way, and then slacken; they creep up, hand over hand, loading and firing, and wavering and halting, from the first line of works to the second; they burst into a charge with a cheer, and go over it. Sheets of flame baptize them; plunging shot tear away comrades on left and right; it is no longer shoulder to shoulder; it is God for us all! Under tree trunks, among rocks, stumbling over the dead, struggling with the living, facing the steady fire of eight thousand infantry poured down upon their heads as if it were the old historic curse from heaven, they wrestle with the [259] Ridge. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes go by like a reluctant century. The batteries roll like a drum; between the second and last lines of rebel works is the torrid zone of the battle; the hill sways up like a wall before them at an angle of forty-five degrees, but our brave mountaineers are clambering steadily on-up-upward still! You may think it strange, but I would not have recalled them if I could. They would have lifted you, as they did me, in full view of the heroic grandeur: they seemed to be spurning the dull earth under their feet, and going up to do Homeric battle with the greater gods.

And what do those men follow? If you look you shall see that the thirteen thousand are not a rushing herd of human creatures; that along the Gothic roof of the Ridge a row of inverted Vs is slowly moving up in line, a mighty lettering on the hill's broad side. At the angles of those Vs is something that glitters like a wing. Your heart gives a great bound when you think what it is-the regimental flag-and glancing along the front count fifteen of those colors that were borne at Pea Ridge, waved at Shiloh, glorified at Stone River, riddled at Chickamauga. Nobler than Caesar's rent mantle are they all! And up move the banners, now fluttering like a wounded bird, now faltering, now sinking out of sight. Three times the flag of one regiment goes down. And you know why. Three dead color-sergeants lie just there, but the flag is immortal-thank God!-and up it comes again, and the Vs move on. At the left of Wood, three regiments of Baird-Turchin, the Russian thunderbolt, is there-hurl themselves against a bold point strong with rebel works; for a long quarter of an hour [260] three flags are perched and motionless on a plateau under the frown of the hill. Will they linger forever? I give a look at the sun behind me; it is not more than a hand's breadth from the edge of the mountain; its level rays bridge the valley from Chattanooga to the Ridge with beams of gold; it shines in the rebel faces; it brings out the Federal blue; it touches up the flags. Oh, for the voice that could bid that sun stand still! I turn to the battle again: those three flags have taken flight! They are upward bound.

The race of the flags is growing every moment more terrible. There at the right, a strange thing catches the eye; one of the inverted Vs is turning right side up. The men struggling along the converging lines to overtake the flag have distanced it, and there the colors are, sinking down in the centre between the rising flanks. The line wavers like a great billow and up comes the banner again, as if heaved on a surge's shoulder. The iron sledges beat on. Hearts, loyal and brave, are on the anvil, all the way from base to summit of Mission Ridge, but those dreadful hammers never intermit. Swarms of bullets sweep the hill; you can count twentyeight balls in one little tree. Things are growing desperate up aloft; the rebels tumble rocks upon the rising line; they light the fuses and roll shells down the steep; they load the guns with handfuls of cartridges in their haste; and as if there were powder in the word, they shout “Chickamauga!” down upon the mountaineers. But it would not all do, and just as the sun, weary of the scene, was sinking out of sight, with magnificent bursts all along the line, exactly as you have seen the crested seas leap up at the breakwater, the advance [261] surged over the crest, and in a minute those flags fluttered along the fringe where fifty rebel guns were kenneled. God bless the flag! God save the Union!

What colors were first upon the mountain battlement I dare not try to say; bright honor itself may be proud to bear-nay, proud to follow the hindmost. Foot by foot they have fought up the steep, slippery with much blood; let them go to glory together. A minute and they were all there, fluttering along the ridge from left to right. The rebel hordes rolled off to the north, rolled off to the east, like the clouds of a worn out storm. Bragg, ten minutes before, was putting men back in the rifle-pits. His gallant gray was straining a nerve for him now, and the man rode on horseback into Dixie's bosom, who arrayed in some prophet's discarded mantle, foretold on Monday that the Yankees would leave Chattanooga in five days. They left in three, and by way of Mission Ridge, straight over the mountains as their forefathers went! As Sheridan rode up to the guns, the heels of Breckinridge's horse glittered in the last rays of sunshine. The crest was hardly “well off with the old love before it was on with the new.”

But the scene on the narrow plateau can never be painted. As the blue coats surged over its edge, cheer on cheer rang like bells through the valley of the Chickamauga. Men flung themselves exhausted upon the ground. They laughed and wept, shook hands, embraced; turned round and did all four over again. It was as wild as a carnival. Granger was received with a shout. “Soldiers,” he said, “you ought to be court-martialed, every man of you I ordered you to take the rifle-pits and you scaled the mountain!” but it was not Mars' horrid front exactly [262] with which he said it, for his cheeks were wet with tears as honest as the blood that reddened all the route. Wood uttered words that rang like “Napoleon's,” and Sheridan, the rowels at his horse's flanks, was ready for a dash down the Ridge with a “view halloo,” for a fox hunt.

But you must not think this was all there was of the scene on the crest, for fight and frolic was strangely mingled. Not a rebel had dreamed a man of us all would live to reach the summit, and when a little wave of the Federal cheer rolled up and broke over the crest, they defiantly cried “Hurrah and be damned!” the next minute a Union regiment followed the voice, the rebels delivered their fire, and tumbled down in the rifle-pits, their faces distorted with fear. No sooner had the soldiers scrambled to the Ridge and straightened themselves, than up muskets and away they blazed. One of them, fairly beside himself between laughing and crying, seemed puzzled at which end of his piece he should load, and so abandoning the gun and the problem together, he made a catapult of himself and fell to hurling stones after the enemy. And he said, as he threw-well, you know our “army swore terribly in Flanders.” Bayonets glinted and muskets rattled General Sheridan's horse was killed under him; Richard was not in his role, and so he leaped upon a rebel gun for want of another. Rebel artillerists are driven from their batteries at the edge of the sword and the point of the bayonet; two rebel guns are swung around upon their old masters. But there is nobody to load them. Light and heavy artillery do not belong to the winged kingdom. Two infantrymen claiming to be old artillerists, volunteer. [263] Granger turns captain of the guns, and-right about wheel!-in a moment they are growling after the flying enemy. I say “flying,” but that is figurative. The many run like Spanish merinos, but the few fight like gray wolves at bay; they load and fire as they retreat; they are fairly scorched out of position.

A sharpshooter, fancying Granger to be worth the powder, coolly tries his hand at him. The general hear the zip of a ball at one ear, but doesn't mind it. In a minute away it sings at the other. He takes the hint, sweeps with his glass the direction whence the couple came, and brings up the marksman, just drawing a bead upon him again. At that instant a Federal argument persuades the cool hunter and down he goes. That long range gun of his was captured, weighed twenty-four pounds, was telescope-mounted, a sort of mongrel howitzer.

A colonel is slashing away with his sabre in a ring of rebels. Down goes his horse under him; they have him on the hip; one of them is taking deliberate aim, when up rushes a lieutenant, clasps a pistol to one ear and roars in at the other, “Who the h-l are you shooting at?” The fellow drops his piece, gasps out, “I surrender,” and the next instant the gallant lieutenant falls sharply wounded. He is a “roll of honor” officer, straight up from the ranks, and he honors the roll.

A little German in Wood's Division is pierced like the lid of a pepper-box, but he is neither dead nor wounded. “See here,” he says, rushing up to a comrade, “a pullet hit te preach of mine gun — a pullet in mine pocket, book — a pullet in mine coat tail — they shoots me tree, five time, and py dam I gives dem h-l yet!” [264]

But I can render you no idea of the battle caldron that boiled on the plateau. An incident here and there I have given you, and you must fill out the picture for yourself. Dead rebels lay thick around Bragg's headquarters and along the Ridge. Scabbards, broken alms, artillery horses, wrecks of gun-carriages, and bloody garments, strewed the scene; and, tread lightly, oh! loyal-hearted, the boys in blue are lying there; no more the sounding charge, no more the brave, wild cheer, and never for them, sweet as the breath of the new-mown hay in the old home fields, “The soldier's return from the war.” A little waif of a drummer-boy, somehow drifted up the mountain in the surge, lies there; his pale face upward, a blue spot on his breast. Muffle his drum for the poor child and his mother.

Our troops met one loyal welcome on the height. How the old Tennessean that gave it managed to get there nobody knows, but there he was, grasping a colonel's hand, and saying, while tears ran down his face “God be thanked! I knew the Yankees would fight!” With the receding flight and swift pursuit the battle died away in murmurs, far down the valley of the Chickamauga; Sheridan was again in the saddle, and with his command spurring on after the enemy. Tall columns of smoke were rising at the left. The rebels were burning a train of stores a mile long. In the exploding rebel caissons we had “the cloud by day,” and now we are having “the pillar of fire by night.” The sun, the golden dish of the scales that balance day and night, had hardly gone down, when up, beyond Mission Ridge, rose the silver side, for that night it was full moon. The troubled day was done. A Federal general [265] sat in the seat of the man who, on the very Saturday before the battle, had sent a flag to the Federal lines with the words:

Humanity would dictate the removal of all noncombatants from Chattanooga, as I am about to shell the city!

Sat there, and announced to the Fourth Corps the congratulations and thanks, just placed in his hands, from the commander of the department:

Bragg's Headquarters, Mission Ridge, November 25, 1863.
In conveying to you this distinguished recognition of your signal gallantry in carrying, through a terrible storm of iron, a mountain crowned with batteries and enriched with rifle-pits, I am constrained to express my own admiration of your noble conduct, and am proud to tell you that the veteran generals from other fields, who witnessed your heroic bearing, place your assault and triumph among the most brilliant achievements of the war. Thanks, soldiers! You have made, this day, a glorious page of history.


There was a species of poetic justice in it all, that would have made the prince of dramatists content. The ardor of the men had been quenchless: there had been three days of fitful fever, and after it, alas! a multitude had slept well. The work on the right, left, and centre cost us full four thousand killed and wounded. There is a tremble of the lip, but a flash of pride in the eye, as the soldier tells with how many he went in-how expressive that “went in!” Of a truth it was wading in deep waters — with how few we came out. I cannot try to swing the burden clear of any heart, by throwing into the scale upon the other side the dead weight of [266] fifty-two pieces of captured artillery, ten thousand stand of arms, and heaps of dead rebels, or by driving upon a herd of seven thousand prisoners. Nothing of all this can lighten that burden a single ounce, but this thought may, and I dare to utter it: These three days work brought Tennessee to resurrection; set the flag, that fairest blossom in all this flowery world, to blooming in its native soil once more.

That splendid march from the Federal line of battle to the crest, was made in one hour and five minutes, but it was a grander march toward the end of rebeldom; a glorious campaign of sixty-five minutes toward the white borders of peace. It made that fleeting November afternoon imperishable. Than the assault upon Mission Ridge, I know of nothing more gallant in the annals of the war. Let it rank foremost with the storming of Forts Scharnitz and Alma, that covered the French arms with undying fame.

Reader and writer must walk together down the heights another day; press that rugged earth with the first backward step a loyal foot has made upon it, and, as we linger, recall a few of the incidents that will render it historic and holy ground for coming time. Let the struggle be known as the Battle of Mission Ridge, and when, in calmer days, men make pilgrimage, and women smile again among the mountains of the Cumberland, they will need no guide. Rust will have eaten the guns; the graves of the heroes will have subsided like waves; weary of their troubling, the soldier and his leader will have lain down together; but there, embossed upon the globe, Mission Ridge will stand its fitting monument forever.

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