Friday, April 22, 2011

Battlefields tour

The blog has been quiet for a week because my wife and I took a road trip to visit relatives. This gave us the opportunity to stop off at four Civil War battlefields along the way - Chickamauga, Franklin, Kenesaw Mountain and, shown above, Lookout Mountain.

Following their defeat at Chickamauga in September 1864, the Union army retreated into defences in and around the railroad hub of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Confederate army under General Braxton Bragg enclosed the town from three sides. The northern area of the town is ringed by mountains which, at the time, had very primitive roads that were often rendered impassable by the unusually wet fall that year. The Union army supply line was further threatened by Confederate cavalry raids.

The photo shows me looking out North-Eastward from one of the Confederate battery positions that were established above the rock palisades that run around the northern face of the mountain. The Tennessee River flows below the height, and just visible above my arm is the line of what was known at the time as the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. The peninsula of land showing just under the gun muzzle is Moccasin Point, site of several Union positions.

The batteries were sited to interdict any supplies and reinforcements moving to the Union army along the river. Confederate artillerymen worked extremely hard to get their ordinance to the mountaintop. Even these days the road switchbacks all the way up the 1,400 feet height, with sheer drops to one side most of the way. Once in position they were able to lob shells onto the Union positions in the town and Moccasin Point, but to little effect, due mainly to the heavy cloud that often rings the summit. We were fortunate in having a nice clear day and could literally see for miles.
The photo below is of Moccasin Point itself. The river makes a great loop around the point, and the neck is quite narrow, a matter of a mile or so. On the night of November 23-24, 1864, General Sherman sent a force of infantry in pontoons from the town, the men sailing around the river bend to Brown's Ferry. Here they went ashore on the left bank, capturing or dispersing surprised Confederate pickets. The pontoons were quickly fashioned into a bridge by that consummate engineer General 'Baldy' Smith, and within hours the 'Cracker Line was opened, bringing much needed supplies and reinforcements into the town of Chattanooga. 

Although it seems to practically beg for some kind of military position, the mountain really only possessed limited use as a signalling post and lookout station. It was taken in swift style by General Hooker leading a combined force of Union troops drawn from the Armies of the Cumberland, Tennessee, and the Potomac. General Bragg seems to have been let-down almost continually by his subordinates, including the much-vaunted James Longstreet, but especially by Leonidas Polk, a favorite friend of Jefferson Davis. 

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