The culmination of the Chattanooga campaign, the battle began in the morning on November 25 with Sherman attempting to take Tunnel Hill. His attacks met with no success in the face of fierce Confederate resistance.
Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland to advance against Missionary Ridge, and the attack began at 3:30 PM. Grant, doubting that the heavily fortified Missionary Ridge could be taken by a frontal assault, ordered that only the rifle pits at the base of the ridge be taken, with the troops to await further orders. Thomas launched a four division attack, about 23,000 men. The rifle pits were taken, and the Union troops began to come under heavy fire from Confederate positions on Missionary Ridge. They immediately began a charge up the ridge to the astonishment of Grant:
Our men drove the troops in front of the lower line of rifle-pits so rapidly, and followed them so closely, that rebel and Union troops went over the first line of works almost at the same time. Many rebels were captured and sent to the rear under the fire of their own friends higher up the hill. Those that were not captured retreated, and were pursued. The retreating hordes being between friends and pursuers caused the enemy to fire high to avoid killing their own men. In fact, on that occasion the Union soldier nearest the enemy was in the safest position. Without awaiting further orders or stopping to reform, on our troops went to the second line of works; over that and on for the crest—thus effectually carrying out my orders of the 18th for the battle and of the 24th for this charge.
I watched their progress with intense interest. The fire along the rebel line was terrific. Cannon and musket balls filled the air: but the damage done was in small proportion to the ammunition expended. The pursuit continued until the crest was reached, and soon our men were seen climbing over the Confederate barriers at different points in front of both Sheridan’s and Wood’s divisions. The retreat of the enemy along most of his line was precipitate and the panic so great that Bragg and his officers lost all control over their men. Many were captured, and thousands threw away their arms in their flight.
The battle of Missionary Ridge was the most stunning example in the War of a frontal attack against a fortified position succeeding. Bragg’s center was broken and his army routed, with headlong retreat being the only course of action open to him. Confederate and Union casualties were each about 10,000 with another 4000 Confederates taken prisoner. Many of the Army of the Cumberland Union troops went into battle yelling “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” That defeat was now well avenged, and the Chattanooga Campaign was at an end. Here is the report of Major General George Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland:
Owing to the difficulties of the ground, his troops did not get in line with Granger’s until about 2.30 p.m. Orders were then given him, however, to move forward on Granger’s left, and within supporting distance, against the enemy’s rifle-pits on the slope and at the foot of Missionary Ridge. The whole line then advanced against the breastworks, and soon became warmly engaged with the enemy’s skirmishers; these, giving way, retired upon their reserves, posted within their works. Our troops advancing steadily in a continuous line, the enemy, seized with panic, abandoned the works at the foot of the hill and retreated precipitately to the crest, where they were closely followed by our troops, who, apparently inspired by the impulse of victory, carried the hill simultaneously at six different points, and so closely upon the heels of the enemy that many of them were taken prisoners in the trenches. We captured all their cannon and ammunition before they could be removed or destroyed.
After halting for a few moments to reorganize the troops, who had become somewhat scattered in the assault of the hill, General Sheridan pushed forward in pursuit, and drove those in his front who escaped capture across Chickamauga Creek. Generals Wood and Baird, being obstinately resisted by re-enforcements from the enemy’s extreme right, continued fighting until darkness set in, slowly but steadily driving the enemy before them. In moving upon Rossville, General Hooker encountered Stewart’s division and other troops. Finding his left flank threatened, Stewart attempted to escape by retreating toward Graysville, but some of his force, finding their retreat threatened from that quarter, retired in disorder toward their right, along the crest of the ridge, when they were met by another portion of General Hooker’s command, and were driven by these troops in the face of Johnson’s division of Palmer’s corps, by whom they were nearly all made prisoners.
It will be perceived from the above report that the original plan of operations was somewhat modified to meet and take the best advantage of emergencies, which necessitated material modifications of that plan. It is believed, however, that the original plan, had it been carried out, could not possibly have led to more successful results. The alacrity displayed by officers in executing their orders, the enthusiasm and spirit displayed by the men who did the work, cannot be too highly appreciated by the nation, for the defense of which they have on so many other memorable occasions nobly and patriotically exposed their lives in battle. Howard’s corps (Eleventh) having joined Sherman on the 24th, his operations from that date will be included in Sherman’s report; also those of Brig. Gen. J. C. Davis division, of the Fourteenth Corps, who reported for duty to General Sherman on the 21st. General Granger’s command returned to Chattanooga, with instructions to prepare and hold themselves in readiness for orders to re-enforce General Burnside at Knoxville. On the 26th, the enemy were pursued by Hooker’s and Palmer’s commands, surprising a portion of their rear guard near Graysville after nightfall, capturing three pieces of artillery and several hundred prisoners. The pursuit was continued on the 27th, capturing an additional piece of artillery at Graysville. Hooker’s advance encountered the enemy posted in the pass through Taylor’s Ridge, who, after an obstinate resistance of an hour, were driven from the pass with considerable loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Our loss was also heavy. A large quantity of forage and some additional caissons and ammunition were captured at Ringgold. On the 28th, Colonel Long (Fourth Ohio Cavalry) returned to Chattanooga from his expedition, and reported verbally that on the 24th he reached Tyner’s Station, destroying the enemy’s forage and rations at that place, also some cars, and doing considerable injury to the railroad. He then proceeded to Ooltewah, where he captured and destroyed some trains loaded with forage. From thence he proceeded to Cleveland, remaining there one day, destroyed their cop-per-rolling mill and a large depot of commissary and ordnance stores. Being informed that a train of the enemy’s wagons was near Charleston, on the Hiwassee, and was probably unable to cross the river on account of the break in their pontoon bridge, after a few hours rest he pushed forward with a hope of being able to destroy them, but found, on reaching Charleston, that the enemy had repaired their bridge and had crossed their trains safely, and were prepared to defend the crossing with one or two pieces of artillery, supported by an infantry force on the north bank. He then returned to Cleveland and damaged the railroad for 5 or 6 miles in the direction of Dalton, and then returned to Chattanooga.
On the 28th, General Hooker was ordered by General Grant to remain at Ringgold until the 30th, and so employ his troops as to cover the movements of General Sherman, who had received orders to march his force to the relief of Burnside by way of Cleveland and Loudon. Palmer’s corps was detached from the force under General Hooker and returned to Chattanooga.
I have the honor to annex hereto consolidated returns of prisoners, captured property, and casualties.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant, GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General, U. S. Vols., Commanding.