In the immediate Chattanooga area, Lookout Mountain seems to be the commanding terrain feature. In the fall of 1863, however, two dozen Union cannon on the southern end of Stringer’s Ridge on Moccasin Bend gave lie to the seeming dominance of ole Lookout.
Defeated at Chickamauga on Sept. 20, 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland retreated to Chattanooga and fortified itself to hold the recently won “Gateway to the Deep South” while awaiting reinforcements.
Holding the “gateway” city, though, meant abandonment of Lookout Mountain and particularly the mountain’s northern point where the best routes to the army’s railhead at Bridgeport, Ala., ran.
When Confederate forces occupied the northern end of Lookout on Sept. 24, they severed those routes and reduced the Federals to reliance on circuitous and difficult paths over Walden’s Ridge.
While Confederates gained Lookout Mountain, cut the enemy’s supply route and moved into Lookout Valley to “besiege” Chattanooga, the region’s unique geography played into the Federal’s hands.
The hairpin bend of the Tennessee caused by the river encountering the mountain and the land form within the bend, Moccasin Point as it was known in 1863 (Moccasin Bend referring just to the river’s bend), offered an opportunity, and Union army commander Gen. William Rosecrans was quick to recognize it.
Union cannon positioned on Moccasin Point could command the northern end of the mountain. In particular, they could command the roads over the mountain between Chattanooga and Lookout valleys. The fire of those guns could make Confederate movement up and over the mountain (a stretch of the Lookout Mountain or Whiteside Turnpike was in range, too) hazardous and more difficult.
Additionally, those guns and their supporting infantry guarded such potential side- or back-doors to Chattanooga as the old ferry site at Lookout Creek, Brown’s Ferry and William’s Island. Union possession and use of Moccasin Point would make any Confederate stranglehold on Chattanooga weaker.
Just two days after Chickamauga, Federal troops and artillery were ordered to Moccasin Point. The cannon were the four 10-pound Parrotts and two 12-pound howitzers of the 10th Indiana Battery and the six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles of the 18th Ohio Battery.
Fortifying themselves on three hills at the southern end of Stringer’s Ridge less than a mile away from the northern tip of the mountain, the batteries opened fire on Oct. 5 and quickly made their presence felt.
Confederate camps and signal stations had to be relocated out of the guns’ sight and range. Most critically, by being able to fire on the roads leading over the mountain, they dramatically reduced the quantity of supplies that could reach Confederates in Lookout Valley, which soon dramatically reduced the number of Southern troops stationed there guarding such points as Brown’s Ferry.
One Confederate wrote, “These batteries have been shelling Lookout. … They destroyed the half-way house (Craven’s) last week and have since driven our signal corps from Lookout Point. Their guns, though situated far below and on the other side of the Tennessee, carry to the very top of the Lookout Mountain.”
When recently arrived Union army commander Gen. Ulysses Grant directed in late October the seizure of Brown’s Ferry and the occupation of Lookout Valley to open the “Cracker Line,” there were only two Alabama regiments holding that part of the Confederate line because of the effectiveness of the Union fire from Moccasin Point.
Southern efforts to regain Lookout Valley were reduced to impotence by the inability to move sufficient troops over the mountain.
A month later, in the Battles for Chattanooga, when Union Gen. Joseph Hooker seized Lookout Mountain in the “Battle Above the Clouds,” the Moccasin Point guns fired into the rear and flank of Confederates attempting to defend the mountain.
Mississippian Edward Walthall said, “The batteries on Moccasin Point commanded at easy range the only route by which troops could come to my support or my own could retire upon the main army.”
Today, the importance of the Federal artillery on Moccasin Bend is being recognized, thanks to the effort that has created the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.
Some earthworks constructed to shelter the guns survive and interpretive access to them is being developed so you can be enlightened by visiting the site of what Georgia artillerist Edward Porter Alexander called “a vicious little battery.”
Jim Ogden is Historian at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. For more, visit Chattanoogahistoricalassoc.org or call Lavonne Jolley 423-886-2090.