After capturing Lookout Mountain at Chattanooga, Tennessee, on November 24th, 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant prepared to drive General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates off the high ground of Missionary Ridge and secure Chattanooga for the Union. Grant’s plan called for Major General William T. Sherman to attack the Confederate right flank on the north side of the ridge at Tunnel Hill. Major General Joseph Hooker would threaten the Confederate left from Lookout Mountain, with Major General George Thomas in the center.
Sherman attacked early on November 25th. However, the Rebel defenders under Major General Patrick Cleburne successfully repulsed the Union attacks in heavy fighting, and despite reinforcements, Sherman could not carry the position. To the south, Hooker was stopped temporarily at Chattanooga Creek after retreating Confederates burned the bridge, thus preventing that Union force from advancing on the Rebel left flank. In mid afternoon, Grant ordered Thomas to attack the center to help take some pressure off of Sherman.
Thomas deployed four divisions from his Army of the Cumberland, with about 23,000 men, in two lines. From north to south, these division were commanded Brigadier General Absalom Baird, Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood, Major General Philip Sheridan, and Brigadier General Richard Johnson. Grant had ordered that the Federals advance and take the line of Confederate rifle pits and entrenchments along the base of the ridge, and stop there. But not all commanders got the orders, or understood them; some thought they were incomplete or passed on wrong. Taking the line of defenses and then halting would place the Union troops in a dangerous position below the Confederate infantry and artillery on the ridge. Despite their uncertainty over if they should actually halt at the base of the ridge or continue on, the signal to advance was given sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. and the unit commanders ordered their men forward.
As the Federals moved forward across the open plain in front of Missionary Ridge, Rebel artillery opened fire. However, it was largely ineffectual as the guns overshot the advancing troops. The Union troops quickened their pace as they closed in on the rifle pits. The Confederates in the rifle pits also had problems with conflicting orders. Some were told to fire one volley and then retreat, while others were not. The advancing Federals overwhelmed the defenders, many of whom were captured, while others tried to escape up the steep ridge to the main Confederate line.
The Union troops had achieved their objective and captured the rifle pits in front of Missionary Ridge. But their position was a precarious one, with Confederate muskets and artillery firing down on them from above. Between the confusion of the orders, and the dangerous position, the soldiers themselves took matters into their own hands, and without orders, continued the assault on up the slope of Missionary Ridge.
From his observation point at Orchard Knob, Grant saw the assault on the ridge itself unfolding, to his surprise, and questioned Thomas and other generals as to who had ordered the movement. The equally surprised generals said that no order had been given. With little choice at that point, Grant watched as the attack proceeded.
As could be expected, this spontaneous attack was largely disorganized, but it was also highly effective; and the Federals fought their way up the slope to the top. From there, they were able to fire into the flanks as well as the fronts of the Rebel positions. On the southern end of the battlefield, Hooker’s command had bridged the creek and was attacking the Confederate left. More and more Federal units made it to the top of the ridge, and Confederate defenders were driven out of their lines. in the late afternoon, Bragg ordered his army to retreat and abandon Missionary Ridge, and with it, the Confederate threat to Chattanooga was at an end. The city was an important supply base for Union operations for the rest of the war.
Brigadier General William B. Hazen commanded a brigade in Thomas J. Wood’s division. A West Point graduate and career army officer, Hazen had fought in nearly every major western campaign in the war, and would fight in many more until the end of the war. Hazen’s brigade included the 6th Indiana, 5th, 6th,and 23rd Kentucky, and 1st, 6th, 41st, 93rd, and 124th Ohio
infantry regiments. This brigade was located at about the center of the Union line as it was arrayed along Missionary Ridge. Hazen claimed his men were the first to reach the crest of the ridge, and he devoted several pages of his post war memoir to eyewitness accounts backing that assertion up. But whether he was first or second, his brigade was heavily engaged both on the way up and after it had reached the crest. Hazen filed this report on both his brigade’s action at Missionary Ridge as well as the Battle of Orchard Knob two days earlier:
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIG., THIRD DIV., 4TH CORPS,
In Camp near Knoxville, Tenn., December 10, 1863.
SIR: In obedience to orders, I have the honor to report as follows of the operations of my brigade, commencing with moving from camp at Chattanooga, November 23, resulting in the rout of the enemy on Missionary Ridge, and ending with our arrival at this point December 7:
At 12 m., November 23, I received orders to form my brigade near Fort Wood and hold it in readiness to move in the direction of Mission Ridge (southeasterly), with the remainder of the division, on a reconnaissance.
The position assigned me was on the right of the front line. The brigade was formed in five battalions as follows: First Battalion, Col. Aquila Wiley, Forty-first Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanding, was composed of the Forty-first Ohio, Lieut. Col. R. L. Kimberly, and Ninety-third Ohio, Maj. William Birch. Second Battalion, Col. W. W. Berry, Fifth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, commanding, of the Fifth Kentucky Volunteers, Lieut. Col. J. L. Treanor, and Sixth Kentucky Volunteers, Maj. R. T. Whitaker. Third Battalion, Lieut. Col. B. Langdon, First Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanding, of the First Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Maj. J. A. Stafford, and Twenty-third Kentucky Volunteers, Lieut. Col. James C. Foy. Fourth Battalion, Lieut. Col. James Pickands, One hundred and twenty-fourth Ohio Volunteers, commanding, of the One hundred and twenty-fourth Ohio, Maj. J. B. Hampson, and Sixth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Maj. C. D. Campbell, Fifth Battalion, Sixth Ohio, Lieut. Col. A. C. Christopher commanding; in all 2,256 effective officers and men.The First and Third Battalions were deployed in the front line and the Fourth and Fifth were formed in double column in the second line. The Second Battalion was on picket and in position to be used as skirmishers. The entire battalion was deployed as such, and at the sound of the bugle at 2 p.m. the entire brigade moved forward in exact order, and in two minutes the skirmish line was sharply engaged with that of the enemy, which gave ground after firing their pieces, and no considerable opposition was felt after, until we reached their first line of rifle-pits, about one-half mile to the rear of their picket line, where the pickets and their reserves endeavored to check our advance, but pushing the First Battalion, that being immediately in front of their principal force, the work, situated on a rocky hill, was carried in the most handsome manner, capturing nearly the entire regiment holding it, the Twenty-eighth Alabama Infantry, with their colors.
It was not accomplished, however, without serious cost to the Forty-first and Ninety-third Ohio Regiments. Major Birch, leading the latter, fell here, also 11 of his men killed and 48 wounded.
The Forty-first Ohio lost 11 men killed and 52 wounded. Colonel Wiley and Lieutenant-Colonel Kimberly, of the same regiment, each had horses killed under them, and Colonel Berry, commanding the skirmishers, was twice struck.
This position was actually carried at the point of the bayonet, the enemy being captured behind their work by the men leaping over it.
During the last half mile of this advance my right was entirely exposed, and suffered severely from an enfilading fire of the enemy.
The night of the 23d was employed in strengthening our position by works, and the 24th was passed without engaging the enemy.
At about 11 a.m. on the 25th, I was ordered to advance my skirmish line sufficiently to develop the enemy’s strength behind his main line of breastworks at the foot of Mission Ridge and about one-half mile in our front. This was handsomely done, under the immediate command of Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher, Sixth Ohio Infantry. In this advance Maj. S.C. Erwin, Sixth Ohio, was killed by a shell, and 8 or 10 others killed and wounded.
At about 3 p.m. this day I received orders to move forward with the remainder of the division and take possession of the enemy’s works at the foot of Mission Ridge, taking cover behind them, and there to await further orders.
The One hundred and twenty-fourth Ohio was on picket and used as skirmishers. The other formations of battalions were similar to that on the 23d instant, the Sixth Kentucky reporting to Colonel Christopher and acting with the Fifth Battalion, and the Sixth Indiana Volunteers acting with the Second. Both lines were deployed, the Third and Fifth forming the first, and the First and Second the second line.
At the signal the brigade moved forward, and’ simultaneously a fire from at least fifty pieces of artillery from the crest of Mission Ridge was poured upon us. We moved in good order at a rapid step, under this appalling fire, to the enemy’s works, which were situated about 300 yards before and toward Chattanooga from the crest of the ridge, the enemy fleeing from these works at our approach.
The command, on reaching these works at the foot of the hill, covered itself, as ordered, on the reverse side of them as best it could, but very imperfectly, being so near and so much below the crest of the ridge.
The musketry fire from the crest was now telling severely upon us, and the crest presenting its concavity toward us we were completely enfiladed by artillery from both flanks.
The position was a singular one, and can only be well understood by those who occupied it.
The command had executed its orders, and to remain there till new ones could be sent would be destruction; to fall back would not only be so, but would entail disgrace.
On commencing the advance, the thought of storming Mission Ridge had not entered the mind of any one, but now the necessity was apparent to every soldier of the command.
Giving the men about five minutes to breathe, and receiving no orders, I gave the word forward, which was eagerly obeyed.
The forces of General Willich on my left had commenced the movement somewhat in my advance, and those of Major-General Sheridan, on my right, were a considerable distance in my rear. There was in my front the troops of General Breckinridge, forming the left of the enemy’s center.
Not much regard to lines could be observed, but the strong men, commanders and color bearers, took the lead in each case, forming the apex of a triangular column of men. These advanced slowly but confidently, no amount of fire from the crest checking.them.
Lieutenant-Colonel Langdon, of the First Ohio, gaining a position where the conformation of the hill gave cover till within 3 yards of the crest, formed several hundred men there, checking the head for that purpose, then giving the command, the column broke over the crest, the enemy fleeing.
These were the first on the hill, and my command moving up with a shout their entire front was handsomely carried.
The troops on my immediate left were still held in check, and those on my right not more than half way up the hill, and were being successfully held back. Hastening my men to the right and left along the ridge, I was enabled to take the enemy in flank and reverse, and, by vigorously using the artillery captured there, I soon relieved my neighbors and carried the crest to within a few hundred yards of Bragg’s headquarters, he himself escaping by flight, being at one time near my right encouraging the troops that had checked Sheridan’s left.
The heroism of the entire command in this engagement merits the highest praise of the country.
Col. Aquila Wiley, Forty-first Ohio Volunteers, commanding the First Battalion, was shot through the leg, making amputation necessary. The loss to the service of this officer cannot be properly estimated. He was always prompt and thorough, and possessed capacity and knowledge of his duties that never left him at fault. I know no officer of equal efficiency in the volunteer service, and none whose past services entitle them to better reward. The services and losses of his battalion, composed of the Forty-first and Ninety-third Ohio Infantry, also stand conspicuous. Lieutenant-Colonel Langdon, First Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanding Third Battalion, was shot through the face just as he had reached the crest of the hill, and after lying prostrate from the wound again moved forward, cheering his men. The services of this officer in gaining the crest should be rewarded by promotion to the grade of brigadier-general. He has previously commanded a brigade with efficiency. Colonel Berry, Fifth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, was again wounded just as he had reached the crest at the head of his battalion, being the third received in these operations. He, however, did not leave the field. A like promotion in his case would be not only fitting but beneficial to the service.
On the fall of Colonel Wiley, Lieutenant-Colonel Kimberly, Forty-first Ohio, assumed command through the remainder of the fight with his usual rare ability.
Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher, Sixth Ohio Infantry, and Lieutenant-Colonel Pickands, One hundred and twenty-fourth Ohio, commanding battalions, rendered valuable and meritorious service. I have also to mention Corpl. G. A. Kraemer, Company I, Forty-first Ohio, for his gallantry in turning upon the enemy the first gun on the ridge, which he discharged by firing his musket over the vent. The same man alone ordered and received the surrender of 20 men with the colors of the Twenty-eighth Alabama on the 23d instant.
Sergt. D. L. Sutphin, Company D, Ninety-third Ohio, on reaching the crest, captured a stand of colors in the hands of its bearer.
Corporal Angelbeck, Company I, Forty-first Ohio, seeing a caisson filled with ammunition already on fire with 2 wounded horses attached to it, cut them loose and ran the burning carriage down the hill before it exploded.
The colors of the First Ohio Infantry, the first on the hill, were carried at different times by the following persons: Corpl. John Emery, Company I, wounded; Corpl. William W. McLaughlin, Company I, killed; Capt. Nicholas Trapp, wounded; Corpl. Frederick Zimmerman, and Major Stafford.
The foregoing are but a few of the many instances of heroism displayed on this occasion.
Maj. William Birch, Ninety-third Ohio, and Maj. S. C. Erwin, Sixth Ohio Infantry, who fell while leading their men, were soldiers of rare efficiency, and their loss will be severely felt by the service and lamented by their friends.
My entire staff, as has always been the case in the numerous battles in which they have been engaged, conducted themselves with the greatest bravery and usefulness. In summing up the operations of the 23d and 25th, I have to report the capture of 382 prisoners, beside a large number of wounded, of 2 stand of colors, of 18 pieces of artillery, with their appendages, 650 stand of small-arms, a considerable quantity of clothing, camp and garrison equipage, and several loaded wagons. Forty-nine of the enemy, including 1 colonel, were buried by my parties.
Attention is called to the reports of battalion commanders accompanying this paper.
My entire casualties were as follows:
[Hazen listed his casualties as 93 killed, 429 wounded and 7 missing for a total of 529]
On the morning of the 28th, we took up the march for this place, which was reached the evening of the 7th instant.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. B. HAZEN,
Third Division, Fourth Corps.
Hazens’ casualty list was later amended to 88 killed, 427 wounded, and 7 missing, for a total of 522.
Major Joab A. Stafford commanded the 1st Ohio Infantry, one of Hazen’s regiments. Stafford described the fighting in his report:
HDQRS. FIRST REGIMENT OHIO VOLUNTEER INFANTRY,
Camp near Knoxville, December 8, 1863.
SIR: I have the honor to report the part taken by the First Ohio Regiment in the engagements of the 23d, 24th, and 25th of November, near Chattanooga, Tenn.
On the afternoon of the 23d, the regiment was consolidated with the Twenty-third Kentucky, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Langdon, of the First Ohio, and took its position, forming double column closed en masse, on the right and in rear of the front line. In this manner the regiment advanced until the line in front became hotly engaged with the enemy. At this moment I was ordered by Colonel Langdon to take two companies from the battalion and move to the right oblique, for the purpose of protecting the flank. I did so, taking Company B, First Ohio, and one company of the Twenty-third Kentucky, and pressed forward, taking possession of the enemy’s line of breastworks on the right, being opposed only by a slim line of skirmishers. A few moments after we had occupied the enemy’s works they appeared on our extreme right, advancing for the purpose, no doubt, of turning our flank. I deployed a line of skirmishers to cover the flank. At this moment Colonel Langdon came up with the balance of his command, drove the enemy back, and held the position. In this skirmish the regiment behaved nobly, losing 1 man killed and 3 wounded.
On the night of the 23d, the regiment was occupied in strengthening its position and doing picket duty.
Nothing worthy of note happened on the 24th. On the morning of the 25th, two companies of the regiment being on the skirmish line, were ordered to advance along with the balance of the skirmishers of the brigade. They advanced to within about 300 yards of the enemy’s works under a sharp fire from their infantry and artillery. Soon after, the two companies from the First rejoined their regiment. Lines were then formed preparatory to an advance on the enemy’s works. The First took position on the right, in the front line, deployed, the first line being under command of Colonel Langdon. About 2 o’clock the line advanced under a heavy fire from the enemy’s artillery and infantry. Their first line of works was carried by storm, and, after a few minutes’ rest, the men pressed steadily forward up Missionary Ridge About two thirds of the way up Colonel Langdon fell severely wounded while bravely leading his men forward. The brave Captain Trapp fell about the same time badly wounded. Still the men moved steadily on, under a terrible fire, to the crest of the hill, driving the enemy out of their works, taking a great number of prisoners and two pieces of artillery. The crest of the hill gained, our position became very critical, Hazen’s brigade being at that time the only one on the ridge, the enemy sweeping the ridge at every fire from his cannon on our right. Our men became considerably scattered in their advance up the ridge, and it was with a great deal of difficulty that a very great number of any one regiment could be gotten together. Hastily collecting about 20 men from my own regiment, the balance having inclined to the left and fighting nobly, and a few from other regiments, I moved to the right on the crest at a double-quick, driving the enemy away and capturing their first two pieces of artillery on our right, they retiring over the crest to the left and opening a flanking fire upon us again. I ordered a charge, and the enemy was driven from their new position. They now opened four pieces of artillery upon us about 100 yards farther to the right, and also formed a line of infantry across the crest for the purpose, no doubt, of driving us from the ridge. I now had 15 men under Captain Hooker, and about 15 more from different regiments. They all seemed determined not to give a single inch, though they were opposed by four pieces of artillery and nearly a whole regiment of infantry. I gave the command “forward,” and all started at double-quick. It seemed incredible, nevertheless it is true, that our 30 men went at them with a right good will. The enemy broke and retreated in every direction, leaving their four guns and a great number of prisoners in our hands. This last battery was captured immediately in front of General Sheridan’s left regiment, they being about one-half the way up the ridge. We followed the enemy up and drove them from several pieces of artillery and caissons that they were trying to get off with. We also captured one cannon and caisson and one wagon on the opposite crest of the hill. I then returned and rejoined my battalion, now under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Foy, Twenty-third Kentucky.
The regiment behaved most nobly, both officers and men. They all took example from our noble colonel, who fell before the action was over. They vied with each other in deeds of heroism. I would respectfully recommend to your favorable consideration Captains Trapp, Hooker, Jones, Patterson; Lieutenants Leonard, Homan, Varian, Grove, Ward, Kuhlmann, and Young; also, Dr. Barr. They are efficient officers, and deserve the highest encomiums for their noble conduct.
Lieutenant Wollenhaupt, who was killed while gallantly urging his men forward, was a good officer, and beloved by all. His loss is severely felt in the regiment. The loss in the regiment was heavy, 1 officer and 11 men killed, 4 officers and 62 men wounded, making the loss in the regiment since the 23d as follows: Officers, 1 killed and 4: wounded; men, 11 killed and 65 wounded; total, 81.
Upon the march from Chattanooga to this place nothing worthy of note occurred.
J. A. STAFFORD,
Major, Commanding First Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Capt. JOHN CROWELL, Jr.,
A Narrative of Military Service by William B. Hazen.
“The Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga” by Joseph S. Fullerton. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, edited by Robert U. Underwood and Clarence C. Buel.
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.