Report of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, U. S. Army,
commanding Eleventh and Twelfth Army Corps, with congratulatory orders.
OCTOBER 26-29, 1863.--Reopening of the Tennessee River .
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXI/1 [S# 54]
HEADQUARTERS ELEVENTH AND TWELFTH CORPS,
ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Lookout Valley, Tenn., November 6, 1863.
Lieut. Col. C. GODDARD,
COLONEL: I desire to submit the following report of the battle of Wauhatchie, and the operations of my command preliminary to that engagement:
In conformity with orders from the headquarters of the department, I crossed the Tennessee by the pontoon bridge at Bridgeport, the morning of the 26th of October, with the greater portion of the Eleventh Corps, under Major-General Howard; a part of the Second Division of the Twelfth Corps, under Brigadier-General Geary; one company of the Fifth Tennessee Cavalry, and a part of a company of the First Alabama Cavalry, and at once took up my line of march along the line of railroad, to open and secure it in the direction of Brown's Ferry. A regiment was left to defend the bridge head when the column had crossed the river, and to take possession of and hold the passes leading to it through Raccoon Mountain. Our route lay along the base of this mountain until we reached Running Waters, when we followed the direction of that stream, and in the morning descended through the gorge into Lookout Valley. No event attended our first day's march deserving mention, unless it be that the enemy's pickets fell back as we advanced, and the leaving of two more of my regiments--one at Shellmound, with instructions to occupy a pass near Gordon's Mines, and another at Whitesides, to protect the route over the mountains through which we had passed.
After entering Lookout Valley, our general course lay along a creek of that name, until within a mile or more of its mouth, where the Brown's Ferry road leaves it to the left. This valley is, perhaps, 2 miles in width, and completely overlooked by the lofty crests of Lookout and Raccoon Mountains. All the movements and dispositions of troops are easily descried from the heights of either, while the valley itself affords abundant opportunity for concealment from the observation of those within. Another prominent feature in Lookout Valley requires mention to a clear perception of its topography and a correct understanding of our operations. This is a succession of hills 200 or 300 feet high, with precipitous timbered slopes and narrow crests, which penetrate 3 miles up the valley and divide it as far as they go nearly in its center. There are five or six of them in number, almost isolated, though in a direct line on the left bank of Lookout Creek, with the railroad passing between the two summits at the extreme of the range; and still lower down the valley the road bears off to Chattanooga, about 2 miles distant, through these hills, while the road to Brown's Ferry continues along the west base to the Tennessee River.
The enemy held possession of these hills, as, indeed, of all the country through which we had passed after crossing at Bridgeport. They had also batteries planted on Lookout Mountain, overlooking them. On the opposite side of the valley is Raccoon Range, and about 3 miles up is the gorge through it which leads to what is called Kelley's Ferry, 3 miles distant. As it was proposed to make this our new line of communication with Chattanooga, my instructions required me, if practicable, to gain possession of and to hold it. As the gorge debouches into Lookout Valley the road forks, one leading to Wauhatchie and up the valley, the other to Chattanooga and down the valley. It was known that a portion of Longstreet's command was in the valley, it is presumed in part for convenience in supplying themselves with rations and forage, but mainly for his sharpshooters to annoy our communications on the north side of the Tennessee and compel our trains to make long détours, over execrable roads, in their transit from Chattanooga to our depots at Stevenson. From its proximity to the enemy's line of investment around Chattanooga, and his facilities for detaching heavily from his masses, it was apprehended that the enemy would make unusual efforts to prevent the transfer of its possession, as a failure on our part to establish new communications involved a fact of no less magnitude than the necessity for the early evacuation of Chattanooga, with the abandonment of much of our artillery and trains.
To return to the column; it pushed on down the valley until arrested by an irregular fire of musketry proceeding from the hill next the railroad as it passes through the central ridge before described. As it was densely covered with forest, we had no means of ascertaining the number of the enemy, except by feeling. Howard's corps being in the advance, he was directed to throw a brigade to the right to turn the position, and a regiment, supported by the balance of another brigade, to the left for the same purpose. No sooner had the brigade on the right deployed than the enemy took to his legs and fled across the creek, burning the railroad bridge in his flight. We lost a few men here, as well as from the shelling we received from the batteries on Lookout Mountain, whenever our column was exposed to them. The central ridge of hills afforded partial cover from the batteries; these, however, caused no serious interruption in the movement of the column, and about 5 p.m. halted for the night, and went into camp a mile or more up the valley from Brown's Ferry. Here we learned that a pontoon bridge had been thrown across the river, and that General Hazen's brigade held the heights on the south side of it. Geary's division being in the rear, and being anxious to hold both roads leading to Kelley's Ferry, he was directed to encamp near Wauhatchie, 3 miles from the position held by Howard's corps. Pickets were thrown out from both camps on all of the approaches, though no attempt was made to establish and preserve a communication between them.
The commands were too small to keep up a substantial communication that distance, and I deemed it more prudent to hold the men well in hand than to have a feeble one. In my judgment, it was essential to retain possession of both approaches to Kelley's Ferry, if practicable, as it would cause us inconvenience to dispossess the enemy if he established himself on either. Before night Howard threw out three companies in the direction of Kelley's Ferry to intercept and capture, if possible, the enemy's sharpshooters, who had been engaged in firing across the river into our trains, and had in fact compelled them to avoid that line entirely. A regiment was also sent toward the point where the Chattanooga road crosses Lookout Creek, and about 12 o'clock had a little skirmishing with the enemy. An hour after, the mutterings of a heavy musketry fell upon our ears from the direction of Geary. He was fiercely attacked, first his pickets, and soon after his main force, but not before he was in line of battle to receive it. Howard was directed to double-quick his nearest division (Schurz's) to his relief, and before proceeding far a sheet of musketry was thrown on him from the central hills, but at long range, and inflicting no great injury. This was the first intimation that the enemy were there at all.
Directions were immediately given for one of the brigades en route to Geary (Tyndale's) to be detached and assault the enemy in the hills on the left, and for the other brigade to push on as ordered Meanwhile, Howard's First Division, under Steinwehr, came up, when it was discovered that the hill to the rear of Schurz's division was also occupied by the enemy in force, and Smith's brigade, of this division, was ordered to carry it with the bayonet. This skeleton, but brave brigade, charged up the mountain, almost inaccessible by daylight, under a heavy fire, without returning it, and drove three times their number from behind hastily thrown up intrenchments, capturing prisoners, and scattering the enemy in all directions. No troops ever rendered more brilliant service. The name of their valiant commander is Col. Orland Smith, of the Seventy-third Ohio Volunteers. Tyndale, encountering less resistance, had also made himself master of the enemy's position in his front.
During these operations a heavy musketry fire, with occasional discharges of artillery, continued to reach us from Geary. It was evident that a formidable adversary had gathered around him, and that he was battling him with all his might. For almost three hours, without assistance, he repelled the repeated attacks of vastly superior numbers, and in the end drove them ingloriously from the field. At one time they had enveloped him on three sides, under circumstances that would have dismayed any officer except one endowed with an iron will and the most exalted courage. Such is the character of General Geary. With this ended the fight. We had repelled every attack, carried every point assaulted, thrown the enemy headlong over the river, and, more than all, secured our new communications, for the time being, beyond peradventure. These several conflicts were attended with unusual interest and satisfaction, from the violence of the attack, the great alacrity displayed by the officers and men in springing to their arms on the first indication of the presence of the enemy, and the glorious manner in which they closed in on him for the struggle.
I regret that my duty constrains me to except any portion of my command in my commendation of their courage and valor. The brigade dispatched to the relief of Geary, by orders delivered in person to its division commander, never reached him until long after the fight had ended. It is alleged that it lost its way, when it had a terrific infantry fire to guide them all the way, and also that they became involved in a swamp, when there was no swamp or other obstacle between them and Geary, which should have delayed them a moment in marching to the relief of their imperiled companions.
For the instances of conspicuous individual daring and conduct, also of regiments and batteries, the most distinguished for brilliant services on this field, the attention of the commanding general is respectfully called to the reports of corps and division commanders herewith transmitted. I must confine myself to an expression of my appreciation of the zealous and devoted services of Major-General Howard, not only on the battle-field, but everywhere and at all times. Of General Geary I need say no more. 'To both of these officers I am profoundly grateful for the able assistance they have always given me. Our loss is 416, among them some of the bravest officers and men of my command.
General Greene was severely wounded while in the heroic performance of his duty. Colonel Underwood, of the Thirty-third Massachusetts Volunteers, was also desperately wounded, and for his recovery I am deeply concerned. If only in recognition of his meritorious services on this field, his many martial virtues, and great personal worth, it would be a great satisfaction to me to have this officer advanced to the grade of brigadier-general.
For the many whose deaths the country will deplore, I must refer you to the reports of subordinate commanders. Of the loss of the enemy, it cannot fall short of 1,500. Geary buried 153 rebel carcasses on his front alone. We took upward of 100 prisoners and several hundred stand of small-arms. With daylight to follow up our success, doubtless our trophies would have been much more abundant.
The force opposed to us consisted of two of Longstreet's divisions, and corresponded in number to our corps. From the prisoners we learn that they had watched the column as it descended the valley, and confidently counted on its annihilation.
To conclude, I must express my grateful acknowledgments to Major-General Butterfield, chief of my staff, for the valuable assistance rendered me on the field; also to Major Lawrence, Captain Hall, Lieutenants Perkins and Oliver, aides-de-camp, for the faithful, intelligent, and devoted performance of all the duties assigned them.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
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