Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Randall’s Report on the 149th New York Infantry at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
In late November 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant began operations to lift the siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Union Army of the Cumberland under Major General William Rosecrans had retreated to Chattanooga following its defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga in September. General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates occupied the high ground on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge around the city, cutting off most of the Federals’ supply lines, and began a siege. Rosecrans was relieved by Grant, and reinforcements were rushed to the city The Army of the Cumberland was joined by the 15th and one division of the 17th Corps from the Army of the Tennessee, and by the 11th and 12th Corps from the Army of the Potomac.
Grant began offensive operations on November 23rd, capturing the Confederate position at Orchard Knob in front of Missionary Ridge. Grant then ordered Major General Joseph Hooker to attack the Confederate left at Lookout Mountain on November 24th. Hooker, with three divisions, was to make a demonstration against the mountain, but was not ordered to make a full scale assault.
On the morning of the 24th, Hooker’s divisions crossed Lookout Creek and attacked along the western side of Lookout Mountain. Gaining momentum after capturing a Rebel picket line, the assault up the mountain continued under foggy, misty conditions making visibility difficult in portions of the battlefield (and led to the nickname Battle above the Clouds). Federal forces eventually drove back Confederate divisions under Generals Edward Walthall and John C. Moore, and had the mountain secured by mid afternoon. The next day, Union forces attacked and took Missionary Ridge, driving the Confederates into northern Georgia. After some additional fighting at and around Ringgold Gap in Georgia, the threat to Chattanooga was over.
One of the divisions involved in the Battle of Lookout mountain was the 2nd Division of the 12th Corps under the command of Brigadier General John W. Geary. Colonel David Ireland commanded the division’s 3rd Brigade, which consisted of the 60th, 78th, 102nd, 137th, and 149th New York infantry regiments, and was heavily involved in the fighting. The 149th New York was under the command of Colonel Henry Barnum. Barnum had been wounded a month earlier at the Battle of Wauhatchie, an attempt by the Confederates to cut a Federal supply line. At the time of the Battle of Lookout Mountain, Barnum was declared unfit for field duty due to his wounds. He led his men into action anyway, but was wounded again. Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Randall assumed command of the 149th New York, and filed this report on his unit’s fighting in the Battle of Lookout Mountain and subsequent action at Ringgold, Georgia:
HEADQUARTERS 149TH NEW YORK VOLUNTEERS,
December 4, 1863.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the One hundred and forty-ninth New York Volunteers during the movement commencing on the 24th of November last and ending December 1, 1863:
The regiment left camp, 16 officers and 222 men strong, at 6.15, a.m. on the morning of the 24th instant, marching forth in line with the brigade, the men carrying one day’s rations, their blankets, and 60 rounds of ammunition.
We crossed Lookout Creek at 9.20 a.m. and formed line of battle up the side of Lookout Mountain as far as was practicable, facing northerly, this regiment occupying the extreme left of the first line. The horses were left on the other side of the creek, the nature of the ground rendering it impossible to use them. We then advanced in line, sweeping the side of the mountain.
Our skirmishers engaged those of the enemy about 1 ½ miles from the point of crossing the creek. We very soon after came up with the main body of the enemy, who occupied a strong position behind rocks and other natural defenses. Our whole line at once engaged the enemy without halting, and drove him steadily before us for about 1 mile, when the whole line of the brigade advanced in a furious charge, the colors of each regiment leading. The enemy were unable to withstand the advance and gave way in great disorder, losing at every step great numbers in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The charge was continued for a long distance through the enemy’s camp, he halting and attempting to reform the line at every available point, but unable to stay the onward movement of our victorious column. Colonel Barnum, who had been previously unfit for duty, and was still scarcely able to march with the regiment from the effects of wounds yet unhealed, feeling unwilling that the regiment should go out to battle leaving him behind, had accompanied us and been in command of the regiment up to this time. While struggling forward greatly exhausted, a great portion of the time in front of the line inciting the men to greater action by words and example, he received a musket ball through the right fore-arm, inflicting a severe wound, which, with his previous exhaustion and fatigue, totally disabled him from proceeding farther.
The regiment, however, pressed steadily forward until we came to the clearing around the mountain, when the men, becoming wrought up to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, rushed furiously forward, swept like a whirlwind around the point of the mountain far down the slope on the opposite side, and Lookout was won. Large numbers of prisoners and three battle-flags were captured by the regiment in this last charge, from mere inability to get out of our way. The prisoners were passed through the lines to the reserve following behind us. What number was taken by the regiment it is impossible to state. Suffice it to say, that it largely exceeded the number of men in the regiment. We passed to the rear in one squad some 40 or 50, including 5 commissioned officers, one of whom was said to be a colonel. While the regiment was advancing over the works and rifle-pits through the cleared space before the white house, I discovered that a portion of the regiment, consisting of the left three companies, did not continue with the rest of the line. The main portion of the regiment continued the advance under command of Captain Hopkins, acting field officer, to a point some 400 or 500 yards beyond the line, of the house on the farther slope of the mountain. At this time the distance to be occupied by our line had become very much extended, and there was a large gap at the right of the line of our regiment.
At this point we were received with more stubborn resistance than at any previous time, but the fragment of the regiment held its ground firmly and drove the enemy beyond the end of their rifle-pits down the slope. At this time it was impossible to distinguish clearly the movements of the enemy or of our own troops on account of the fog and rocks, but they appeared to be forming for the purpose of moving around and turning our left. Captain Hopkins applied to some officers of the reserve who had just come up to move to his assistance, but instead of doing so they immediately fell back to a line of rifle-pits, some 150 yards in our rear, when Captain Hopkins, finding himself unsupported, connecting with no one on his right or left, and apparently in advance of the general line, also fell back to the same point. After remaining a short time in that position, and finding that no advance was made by the enemy, he again advanced, moving more to the left, to the crest overlooking the slope of the mountain toward Chattanooga, and occupied a stone wall facing in that direction.
In the meantime, while these latter movements were being made, I went in search of the missing companies of the regiment, and found that they had been stopped by order of General Whitaker, commanding the reserve, and formed on the right of a line of two battalions of his command, and all busy throwing up a breastwork of rails and such other materials as were at hand.
I immediately sought an explanation from General Whitaker, and was informed by him that the enemy were striving to turn our left flank, and that that point would be the battle-ground. I then again went forward some 300 or 400 yards to the line occupied by my regiment, and seeing no indications of any flank movement, I returned and moved these companies forward, together with a number of men of the One hundred and second New York Volunteers, under command of Captain Stegman, who, having become separated from his command in retiring from the line of skirmishers, had reported to me and joined the balance of my command. We held that position with no considerable opposition from the enemy until we were relieved by a regiment of the First Brigade, Second Division, of the Twelfth Army Corps, about 3 p.m., when we retired and joined the brigade at the position indicated.
The conduct of both officers and men cannot be spoken of in terms of too high commendation. They vied with each other in being foremost in the charge upon the enemy. Numerous instances occurred of men and officers almost completely exhausted by the rapid pace of the charge over almost insurmountable obstacles, nobly struggling not to be left behind; officers and men seriously wounded refused to leave the field till our work was done. Our losses sustained and the trophies won sufficiently attest the arduous nature of our duties and the success with which they were performed.
Our loss in the assault upon Lookout Mountain was 7 men killed and 7 officers and 45 men wounded, a list of which has been heretofore forwarded, and to which I beg leave to refer as forming part of this report.
The regiment marched with the brigade, being third in line, at 11.40 a.m. the 25th ultimo, taking the direction of Rossville Gap, making several long halts. Being within sound of heavy fighting beyond the ridge and of the musketry at the gap, about 4 p.m. the command turned to the left and passed rapidly along the base of the ridge, the division marching in column of regiments. As the column came in sight of the top of the ridge the enemy turned and fled in hot haste. We followed as rapidly as possible for 2 or 3 miles, but were unable to come up with them. The march of the division at this time presented one of the finest, most magnificent sights ever witnessed. Both officers and men had become so excited by the sound of the firing and the sight of the fleeing rebels that it was with great difficulty they were restrained sufficiently to preserve their ranks or the distance between regiments, so eager were they to press forward. As the column halted, loud and long huzzas ascended again and again, and were answered by those of our victorious troops upon the summit of the ridge. The troops bivouacked soon after dusk, using the huts that day left by the enemy.
The regiment marched at 10.50 a.m. the 26th ultimo, moving second in line with the brigade. At 10 p.m. bivouacked in a field near Pea Vine Creek. We marched from Pea Vine Creek at 7 a.m. the 27th ultimo, my regiment being first in the line of the brigade, and arrived at Ringgold about 9 a.m. We marched through the town and were halted near the railroad depot, which was at the base of Taylor’s Ridge. The battle was then already progressing. We remained sheltered by the depot for something over an hour, when I received directions from the colonel commanding brigade to move out my command and take the direction to be pointed out to me by Captain Nolan, of brigade staff, to hold the position I should take, not to fire unless advanced upon, and then no more than was necessary. I immediately moved forward by the flank along the said road, the remainder of the brigade following us. Following the direction taken by Captain Nolan, who had galloped ahead across an open field between the said road, which here turned to the left, and Chickamauga Creek, as we came upon a little rise of ground at the beginning of the field which we were to cross, a few of our troops were seen to be retiring rapidly and in disorder from the very position which we were about to take.
I immediately gave the command “double-quick.” The command was obeyed with alacrity, and the pace was soon increased to a run. The regiment moved by the right flank across this open field of some 500 or 600 yards in extent, which was completely swept by the artillery and musketry of the enemy at easy range, with its ranks well closed and its line well preserved, from the rapidity of our movements losing comparatively few. Upon arriving at the banks of the creek at the mouth of the gap in Taylor’s Ridge, the right wing of the regiment was posted along the banks of the creek and the left wing in and around an old barn at right angles with the right wing. We found that the hills on both sides of the gap were occupied by the sharpshooters of the enemy in considerable force, who had a complete cross-fire on our position. Finding that it would be impossible to maintain our position unless they were driven back, I gave directions for the men to shelter themselves by every available means, and for a few in each wing to keep up a rapid and careful fire whenever an enemy could be seen. We were thus enabled to retain our position, but with some loss. Soon after our arrival there the enemy moved forward to the edge of the wood and bushes in the mouth of the gap a brass field piece, and threw from a distance of about 100 yards four charges of grape through and through the barn in which we were posted, scattering pieces of board, splinters, and chips in every direction, but fortunately injuring no one, as their aim was a few feet too high. I immediately, upon the appearance of the artillery, stationed about a dozen men to watch it and prevent it being used. They were so successful that only the four shots were fired, and the gun remained in that position nearly half an hour unworked. Several times men came to move it away, but were each time driven back. They finally, by the use of a prolonge, succeeded in withdrawing it to the other side of the railroad. As soon as the firing of the enemy ceased, which was at about 12.30 p.m., several men of the right wing, who were farthest advanced up the bank of the creek, rushed in pursuit of the retiring enemy in hopes of capturing the gun, but were not successful. They succeeded, however, in capturing a guidon of the battery and a Confederate States of America national flag–the Stars and Bars. Our loss was 3 men killed and 1 officer and 11 men wounded, the list of which has been heretofore forwarded.
The conduct of officers and men as on the previous occasion was all that could be desired.
We remained in position for about one hour after the firing ceased, when the brigade was withdrawn and bivouacked in the edge of the town.
Captain Seymour was detailed as provost-marshal; the regiment also furnished details for moving the wounded and for provost duty. About noon of the 28th ultimo, by order of colonel commanding brigade, I removed the regiment and quartered it in a large building in the village. In the afternoon of the same day the regiment was sent on picket duty and stationed on the ridge south of the creek and gap, from which they were relieved at 2 p.m. the 29th ultimo. The regiment remained quietly at its quarters in the village until 2.30 a.m., December 1, when we took up line of march for our former camp, where we arrived about 3 p.m. Some items or incidents may have been omitted in this account of operations so numerous and extended, but as all our movements were under the immediate eye and direction of the colonel commanding brigade, his own recollection will doubtless enable him to supply the deficiency.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. B. RANDALL,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
“Chattanooga” by Ulysses S. Grant. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III. Edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel.
Memoirs of the 149th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry by George K. Collins
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XXXI, Part 2
The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens