Colonel James A. Williamson’s Report on His Brigade’s Action at Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and Ringgold Gap
On November 24th, 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces attacked Lookout Mountain at Chattanooga, Tennessee, driving out General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates and capturing the mountain. The next day, Federals attacked Missionary Ridge and again carried the day, forcing the Confederates to retreat and leaving Chattanooga and the high ground around it in Union hands. Finally, on November 27th, Major General Patrick Cleburne’s Division fought a rear guard action and successfully stopped a four division Union force under Major General Joseph Hooker at the Battle of Ringgold Gap.
One of the Union units that participated in all three of these actions was the brigade of Colonel James A. Williamson. Williamson’s brigade consisted of six Iowa infantry regiments, and was part of Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus’ division of the 15th Corps. Williamson, who fought in many of the battles of the Western armies and who would be promoted to General later in the war, filed this report on his brigade’s action in the Chattanooga battles:
HDQRS. SECOND BRIG., FIRST DIV., 15TH ARMY CORPS,
Camp at Ringgold, Ga., November 28, 1863.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report the action of this brigade in the battles of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and Ringgold, including all its movements from the 24th until the evening of the 27th instant.
The brigade is composed of the Fourth Iowa Infantry, commanded by Lieut. Col. George Burton; the Ninth Iowa Infantry, commanded by Col. David Carskaddon; the Twenty-fifth Iowa Infantry, commanded by Col. George A. Stone; the Twenty-sixth Iowa Infantry, commanded by Col. Milo Smith; the Thirtieth Iowa Infantry, commanded by Lieut. Col. A. Roberts, and the Thirty-first Iowa Infantry, commanded by Lieut. Col. J. W. Jenkins. At the hour named in the order of the night previous the brigade moved, following the First Brigade, to a point in front of Lookout Mountain, near where the attack was to be commenced, and formed line of battle by battalions en masse at deploying intervals. Very soon after my line was formed I received an order from you to send a regiment to support a battery on the hill immediately in front of Lookout Mountain, and commanding that portion of it when our troops were making the attack.
I detached my right regiment, the Fourth, and sent it to the place designated. Soon after this I received another order to send one more regiment, to report to yourself, for some purpose unknown to me. In obedience to the order, I sent you the Twenty-fifth.
The four remaining regiments I held in line until about 11 o’clock, when I received an order from General Osterhaus to send another regiment to support a battery of Parrott guns immediately in our front. In obedience to this order, I sent the Thirtieth.
I was then ordered to follow in the direction the First Brigade had taken with my three remaining regiments, which I did, until I arrived at the crossing of Lookout Creek, at which place General Osterhaus ordered my rear regiment (the Ninth) to remain and receive all the prisoners then there and those to be sent back. I crossed the creek with my two remaining regiments, when General Hooker in person sent another regiment (the Twenty-sixth) down the railroad to support some troops at a point or gap somewhere toward our left.
I then proceeded up the mountain side with my one remaining regiment (the Thirty-first), accompanied by General Osterhaus in person, with a part of his staff, and came up with the First Brigade at a point where troops not belonging to the First Division were in line, engaging the enemy. At this point I had some doubt as to where I should place my regiment on account of a dense fog which had settled down on the mountain side and prevented me from seeing the location of our troops, but soon found the line formed by a part of the First Brigade, and placed the regiment on the left of it. I was very soon joined by the Ninth and Twenty-sixth, which had been relieved and sent up to me, and placed them in line. At this place I learned from General Osterhaus that the Fourth Iowa had been sent forward early in the day, and that they were at that time somewhere up the mountain side; also that it had behaved well in the morning in driving the enemy from their breastworks. About 2 p.m. an aide-de-camp from General Hooker ordered me to relieve a regiment of General Geary’s command, which was in the extreme front, under heavy fire and out of ammunition. I immediately sent my adjutant-general, Capt. George E. Ford, with the Thirty-first Regiment, to relieve the regiment, which was the ——-.
While my adjutant was there he found the Fifty-fourth Ohio [?]–also of General Geary’s command–was out of ammunition, and relieved it with the Fourth Iowa, which he found up at the front.
After these regiments had been eight hours under fire, they sent me word that their ammunition was nearly exhausted. I immediately informed General Osterhaus of the fact, and was informed by him that the Twenty-fifth and Thirtieth Regiments of my brigade, which had been left behind, must relieve them.
Captain Ford then started on foot in search of these regiments, but they had been ordered to different points, and could not be found, the captain returning after several hours’ walk, nearly worn out by his unceasing exertion in the discharge of his duty.
In the meantime, before Captain Ford returned, I applied to General Geary, asking him to relieve my regiment, inasmuch as they had relieved his in the first instance. He refused to do it. I then took some ammunition from the remaining regiments with me to the regiments under fire, and afterward, at about 1 a.m. went to General Geary and procured 8,000 rounds of ammunition to replace what had been taken from my regiments.
Soon after 2 a.m., the enemy having previously ceased firing and retreated, General Geary relieved the Fourth and Thirty-first regiments, and they fell back to their places in line of battle.
Early in the morning of the 25th, the Thirtieth and Twenty-fifth Regiments, having been relieved by General Butterfield, of General Hooker’s staff, reported to me, and took their positions in line, thus bringing my brigade together for the first time since the morning previous.
About 9 o’clock on the morning of the 25th, my brigade was ordered to march toward Missionary Ridge. When we arrived near the pass where the enemy made the first stand, I received an order to take two regiments and ascend the hill in the left of the gap or pass.
I accordingly took the Fourth and Thirty-first and pushed rapidly to the top, meeting with but little opposition. I pushed my skirmishers forward into the valley, where I expected to find the enemy, but they had gone. I remained on the top of the ridge for a short time, until the Ninth and Thirtieth Regiments came up (the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth having been ordered by General Osterhaus to take a position on the western slope of the ridge to keep back any flanking force of the enemy which might come from our left), when I went forward to the valley, and then moved out by the flank, through the gap, down the pass to the open ground, when I was ordered to make a short halt. While at the halt, 2 men of the Ninth Iowa captured Lieutenant Breckinridge, a son of Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, of the Confederate Army. In obedience to orders, I again proceeded up the main road by the right flank, still leaving the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth in the position which had been assigned them. The road on which I marched was up on a ridge east of and parallel with Missionary Ridge. I had not proceeded far before I heard heavy firing toward the front, on the left flank.
I immediately ordered the Fourth Regiment detached, and deployed it as skirmishers on my left flank, and soon discovered that the enemy occupied that part of Missionary Ridge where I had been but a short time before, and then moved my brigade forward, in line of battle, obliquely to the right, closing up on the First Brigade, at the same time bringing my left forward, in line with General Cruft’s division on my left. I then received orders from General Osterhaus to go rapidly forward in line.
This movement was executed gallantly by the four regiments of the brigade present going down the side of the ridge we were then on and up the steep ascent of Missionary Ridge, all the time under a heavy fire from the enemy, but driving them before us.
As I ascended the hill, I was in much doubt and perplexity as to whether I might not be inflicting severe injury on my own skirmishers, and also on the right of the division on my left.
This uncertainty kept me from reaching the summit as soon as I otherwise might have done; but, notwithstanding this, I think I may justly claim that one of my regiments (the Fourth)was the first to reach the top, and that the brigade was there as soon as any other troops.
I took a great number of prisoners, but could not state accurately how many, as I ordered them to be left behind under a very small guard, while the command pushed forward, and before I could ascertain the number they were turned over to the officer who seemed to be taking charge of all prisoners. The brigade captured as large a number as did any other command.
Many instances of personal bravery might be mentioned, but it must be sufficient to say that all of the regiments did well.
Lieut. W. M. Stimpson, of my staff (of the Thirtieth Iowa Regiment), received a wound in the head in the beginning of the engagement, but continued to discharge his duty until the end.
The brigade encamped on the field (here the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth came up, having been relieved) and took care of our wounded, and buried our dead during the night. On the following morning, after picking up a large number of arms, delivering them to ordnance officer, I moved forward, following First Brigade, and encamped for the night 4 miles east of Chickamauga Creek.
On the morning of the 27th, the brigade marched at 5 o’clock toward Ringgold, where it arrived about 10 o’clock and found the enemy strongly posted on a range of hills, known as Taylor’s Ridge, a short distance to the east of the town. General Osterhaus ordered me to send one regiment to support the Seventy-sixth Ohio, of the First Brigade, which had been sent with a view to taking the hill. I immediately ordered the Fourth Regiment forward, instructing its commander to push forward and render all the assistance possible to the regiment in front, and then, in obedience to an order from General Osterhaus, I brought forward another regiment (the Thirty-first), and placed it along the railroad to act as sharpshooters, to cover the advance of the two regiments sent forward.
Finding that the two regiments sent up were meeting with stubborn resistance, I took two other regiments (the Ninth and Twenty-sixth) and went forward with them in person, advancing up the side of the hill (which might be more properly called a mountain) until I came in line with the Fourth Iowa and Seventy-sixth Ohio on their left.
In the meantime, before I could get the two regiments (the Ninth and Twenty-sixth) up, the Fourth Iowa and Seventy-sixth Ohio had advanced to the top of the hill, but for the want of support, after suffering severe loss, had been compelled to fall back a short distance (not more than 50 or 60 paces from the summit), where they were when I came up.
While I was gaining this position my two remaining regiments, the Twenty-fifth and Thirtieth, had in obedience to my order gone up to my left and were fast approaching the top, their skirmishers being not more than 75 paces from the summit, when three regiments (as I am informed of the Twelfth Army Corps)came up, one on the left of the Twenty-fifth-and one between the Twenty-fifth and Thirtieth, the other passing through the Twenty-fifth by the flank.
Colonel Stone ordered and begged them to go up on his left, but the officers in command said they had orders for doing as they did, and persisted in their course.
At this time the fire of the enemy had almost ceased, but they could be plainly seen making dispositions of their forces to repel the advance of these regiments. Colonel Stone cautioned them that the enemy would open a destructive fire on them if they went up in the manner they were going. They replied they would teach “Western troops a lesson,””and advanced a short distance farther, when the enemy opened a terrific fire on them. They stood manfully for a minute or two, when they gave way, and came down like an avalanche, carrying everything before them, and to some extent propagating the panic among my regiments.
The fault of these regiments seemed to be more in the way in which they attempted to go up the hill than in anything else. While Colonel Stone preferred the method of taking it by skirmishing and cautiously advancing, the regiments above named tried to go up as if on parade where the men could barely have gone up by clinging to the rocks and bushes. Colonels Stone and Roberts did all they could to hold their men together, and soon succeeded in restoring order and confidence, and again went up the hill.
Having no support on the right, and those regiments on the left having given way in confusion, I found it would be folly to try to carry the hill until I should be re-enforced, and accordingly made the best disposition of my force to hold the ground already gained, and sent a messenger to inform General Osterhaus of the fact, and received from him an order to hold my position and await re-enforcements.
I held my position for a short time. No re-enforcements or support coming to my aid, and finding that the fire from the enemy had slackened, I again went forward and gained the top of the ridge and found the enemy retreating, and a strong force farther on burning the railroad bridge across East Chickamauga Creek.
I immediately went forward, keeping up a heavy fire, and drove them away before they accomplished their work.
I had the fire put out on the first bridge, and sent Major Nichols, of the Fourth Iowa, and a small party of men, who volunteered for the service, to put out the fire on the bridge farther on. This he accomplished, after driving a much larger force than his own away.
I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of Major Nichols throughout all the campaign, and especially in every action. First Lieut. Charles W. Baker, of Company C, and Second Lieut. Thomas H. Cramer, of Company K, Fourth Iowa, both distinguished themselves in the front of the fight, capturing prisoners from the very midst of the enemy. Lieutenant Cramer was instantly killed, after making a capture of a lieutenant and several men, and Lieutenant Baker mortally wounded (since dead) while heroically cheering the men on. Maj. Willard Warner, Seventy-sixth Ohio, and his officers and men won my unqualified admiration.
Many instances of heroic daring and bravery came under my observation, and would be reported specially if regimental commanders had furnished me the names of the parties.
Capt. George E. Ford, my assistant adjutant-general, was severely wounded in the leg while trying to prevent the troops on my left from giving way, during the engagement at Ringgold.
Lieut. L. Shields, aide-de-camp, also received a slight wound in the hip at the same time.
I am much indebted to my staff officers–Captain Ford, Captain Darling, and Lieutenants Shields and Stimpson–for their efficient services.
Accompanying this report you will find list of killed and wounded of the several regiments in the different engagements.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. A. WILLIAMSON,
Colonel 4th Iowa, Comdg. 2d Brig., 1st Div., 15th A. C.
Capt. W. A. GORDON,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., 1st Division, 15th Army Corps.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XXXI, Part 2
Casualties for Williamson’s brigade in the three battles totaled 19 killed, 134 wounded, and 2 missing.
Generals in Blue by Ezra Warner
The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens