Murray: Confederates have bright spot at North End

Murray: Confederates have bright spot at North End

December 1st, 2013 By Dr. Smith Murray in Opinion Columns

For the Confederates, the Chattanooga campaign was one disaster after another. However, one bright spot for the Confederates occurred on the northern end of Missionary Ridge, now named Sherman's Reservation. The action there pitted the highly regarded Federal general, William Tecumseh Sherman, and his Army Group against troops under the command of the Confederate general, Patrick R. Cleburne.

On the North End the odds favored Sherman. Sherman had 30,000 troops at his disposal outnumbering Cleburne by about four to one.

The civil war scholar, John R. Lundberg, said, "Historians have assumed that because Sherman vastly outnumbered Cleburne, he should have been able to take the North End. However, once Cleburne arrived on the scene, his actions played a much larger role in the defense of the North End than historians have acknowledged."

Sherman, however, contributed to his own lack of success. He started on the wrong foot. After crossing the Tennessee River on the night of Nov. 23-24 his job was to take the North End of the Ridge. During the day of the Nov. 24, Sherman signaled to Grant that he had indeed taken the North End.

Sherman was mistaken. He had taken Billy Goat Hill, which is a complex of several hills just north of the true North End of Missionary Ridge. Late in the day of the 24th he realized his mistake and signaled this information on to Grant.

Neither Sherman nor Grant seemed particularly concerned. Both felt taking the North would be a simple walkover the next day. Both Grant and Sherman were mistaken.

Grant's plan for the conquest of Missionary Ridge was for Sherman to take the North End and roll up the Confederates driving them south down the ridge. When Sherman's troops approached the central portion of the ridge, Thomas' Army of the Cumberland would join in and help Sherman mop up the Confederates.

Grant ordered Sherman to come off Billy Goat Hill and attack the North End at dawn on the Nov. 25. The geography still befuddled Sherman. Cleburne wasn't befuddled; he had all the approaches for the North End well defended.

It wasn't until midmorning that Sherman had two brigades in action. One brigade, Corse's, attacked from due north. Loomis' brigade, was supposed to act in concert by hitting from the northwest. However, Loomis got so far to the west that he couldn't give adequate support to Corse's brigade.

Corse was repulsed and by noon Federal attacks from directly north slacked off.

During the noon lull, Cleburne moved additional cannons up to the top of the North End and repositioned some of his troops to protect against an assault from the west.

All afternoon Sherman attacked from the west. These troops included Loomis' brigade which had been there since morning. Sherman also threw in the brigades of Bushbeck, Matthies and Raum. As the day wore on they pushed up the west side of the ridge. They almost reached the top, but not quite.

The steepness of the ridge shielded the Federals from Cleburne's rifles. It was safer for Cleburne's men to hurl rocks down rather than to poke their heads over the edge of the ridge and shoot down at the Federals.

As the afternoon grew later this situation produced a sort of stalemate. Further, Cleburne's men were beginning to run low on ammunition. This called for a bold decision. Cleburne elected to charge down the side of the ridge routing most of the Federals off the west side. A second charge cleared them all off.

By late afternoon, Sherman retreated back to Billy Goat Hill.

Cleburne's men were celebrating a victory when word came that the Federals had broken the Confederate line in the center of the Ridge. The Confederate line had broken disastrously.

That evening Cleburne's men had to fall off the Ridge and ultimately fight the rearguard action at Ringgold Gap.

Sherman has been criticized for his performance, most notably for not throwing his whole army against the North End instead of sending out brigades in small packets.

The Civil War Historian, Peter Cozzens, said that Sherman's failure to attack Cleburne from the east was "unconscionable". Whether true or not, Cleburne was well protected on the east.

He had Lowry's brigade on a hill just east of the North End, and Govan's brigade sat on an easterly jutting spur just south of the Ridge's North End.

It's not at all certain that Sherman could have done any better there.

Dr. Smith Murray is a retired urologist. For more information, visit chattahistoricalassoc.org or telephone LaVonne Jolley at 423-886-2090.