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Missionary Ridge, Battle of

Missionary Ridge, Battle of (1863).After the Battle of Chickamauga (September 1863), the defeated Union army retreated into Chattanooga, Tennessee. The victorious Confederate army virtually besieged it there by occupying high ground west, south, and east of the city, practically cutting off Union supplies.

The federal government reacted by sending reinforcements— Gen. Joseph Hooker and 10,000 men from Virginia, and William Tecumseh Sherman and 20,000 men from Mississippi. More important, it sent a new commander: Ulysses S. Grant. Grant opened an adequate supply line and prepared his combined armies for battle. Meanwhile, Confederate commander Braxton Bragg was plagued by backbiting and noncooperation from his subordinates.

By late November, Grant was ready. His plan was that Hooker should threaten the Confederate left on Lookout Mountain to the southwest of the city and George H. Thomas the Confederate center along Missionary Ridge to the east, while Sherman broke the Confederate right on Tunnel Hill. On 24 November, Hooker actually drove the Confederates off Lookout Mountain; but the terrain around Tunnel Hill proved deceptively difficult, the Confederate defense skillful and stubborn. Sherman's 25 November attacks got nowhere. To ease pressure on Sherman, Grant ordered Thomas to take a line of Confederate rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. Confusion regarding orders and the impossibility of remaining at the base of the ridge under fire from the Confederates on the crest led Thomas's troops to continue their charge and—astoundingly—take the ridge. Why? First, ravines on the slope covered the attackers. Second, the confederate defensive line was poorly sited. Third, the Confederate troops' morale was low since they had lost confidence in Bragg. And fourth, Thomas's Federals were unusually aggressive, determined to blot out the shame of their recent debacle at Chickamauga. In all, 56,000 Federals engaged 46,000 Confederates on Missionary Ridge. Casualties were 5,824 Union men to 6,667 Confederates.

As a result of the battle, Bragg was removed from command. His army retreated to Dalton, Georgia, and the stage was set for the start of Sherman's Atlanta campaign the following spring.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

James L. McDonough , Chattanooga—A Death Grip on the Confederacy, 1984.
Peter Cozzens , The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga, 1994.
Steven E. Woodworth , Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1998.

Steven E. Woodworth

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