Young: City lifeline: Moccasin Point, the 'Cracker Line'

Young: City lifeline: Moccasin Point, the 'Cracker Line'

October 20th, 2013 By Christopher Young in Opinion Columns

In the fall of 1863, as the leaves of the surrounding forests morphed into vibrant yellows, reds, and oranges, blue-clad Union soldiers found themselves surrounded and trapped in the city of Chattanooga. After their defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, the soldiers of Union army retreated into the city's defenses. Soon after, Confederates, also reeling from their losses at Chickamauga, encircled the nearly abandoned and ghost-like town. Gazing down from Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, the Confederates had another opportunity to crush their Union foes, an opportunity that slipped through their fingers a few days prior.

The majority of Union soldiers, many on the verge of starvation, had no idea a plan was being formulated that would open a supply line into the city. Key to that plan was a peninsula west of Chattanooga in the bend of the Tennessee River, known as Moccasin Point (present-day Moccasin Bend).

By Sept. 22, Union soldiers streamed onto Moccasin Point and began building fortifications along the southern point of Stringers Ridge. Once the chopping of axes, crashing of trees and churning of dirt fell silent, the rumble of Union artillery as it moved into position could be heard along the ridge's slopes. A few days later, other cannon, which had protected Brown's Ferry, an important crossing on Moccasin Point, were wheeled into position along the ridge. The stage was set to harass Confederates massed on Lookout Mountain and ensure that the peninsula remained secure as plans moved forward to open a supply line.

On October 5, as soldiers went about their daily routines, cannon suddenly boomed from atop Lookout Mountain, aimed for Moccasin Point. The Confederates made the first move in what would become weeks of grueling exchanges of iron and shrapnel. Gen. John Beatty, a Union officer, observed a strange sight as shells flew from the great mountain. He said, "a shell entered the door of a dog tent, near which two soldiers of the 18th Ohio were standing, and buried itself in the ground, when one of the soldiers turned very cooly [sic] and said, 'There you ... fool, you see what you get by leaving the door open.'" In the midst of the chaos unfolding around them, these soldiers remained calm and would have to remain so for the foreseeable future.

For the next three weeks, cannon fire continued, interrupted at times by buckets of rain, which transformed the surrounding landscape into a mud pit. As rations ran lower in the Union army, soldiers stationed on Moccasin Point gave it a nickname. Since they seemed so removed from the army and were, in all intents and purposes, feeling alone and forlorn on the peninsula, they christened it "Starvation Point."

However, things were about to change. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant recently arrived at army headquarters in Chattanooga. The plan to open the supply line was ready to be implemented.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 27, hungry Union troops pushed away from the Chattanooga shoreline into the darkness of the Tennessee River. Aided by fog and no moonlight, these soldiers secretly made their way down the river, hugging the shore along Moccasin Point. Suddenly, they shifted course toward the western gap in the hills at Brown's Ferry crossing. As if emerging from the river itself, the Union troops crashed into the few Confederates stationed at the crossing.

Shaken by the sudden onslaught of screaming men in blue and partially blinded by the fog, the Confederates in the area tried to plug the widening gap in their line. As light began cutting through the darkness and fog, it revealed overwhelming numbers of Union soldiers. After a brief fight, the Southerners were forced to retreat.

By capturing the gap on the western bank at Brown's Ferry, the Union army was poised to open their supply line across Moccasin Point. Once this line was fully opened a few days later, it would forever be known by soldiers on both sides as "The Cracker Line."

Christopher Young is a park ranger at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. For more information, visit chattahistoricalassoc.org or telephone LaVonne Jolley at 423-886-2090.