November 24, 1863: Battle Above the Clouds

Battle Above the Clouds, the song in the above video, commemorates the battle of Lookout Mountain fought 150 years ago yesterday, part of a series of Union attacks that drove the Confederate Army of Tennessee reeling in retreat from its positions around Chattanooga that it had occupied in the aftermath of the Confederate victory of Chickamauga in September of 1863.

Major General Joseph Hooker was assigned the task of attacking the Confederate position on Lookout Mountain.  Grant was dubious that the Confederate positions on Lookout Mountain could be taken, and told Hooker to take the mountain only if it seemed practicable to do so.  Hooker had three divisions, ten thousand men, not a much greater force than the 8,000 Confederates that held the position.

Hooker, intent on regaining his reputation as a field commander, pressed the assault.  The Confederate defense was hampered by the rough terrain and lackluster commanders who put up a feeble defense.  By midnight the mountain was quiet with the Confederates withdrawing in the wee hours of November 25, aided by a lunar eclipse.  The battle electrified the North, being hailed as the battle above the clouds, a reference to the mists that clung to the slopes of Lookout Mountain.

chattanooga-lookout

Brigadier General John W, Geary, who led one of Hooker’s three divisions, shared the excitement, writing to his wife:

I have been the instrument of Almighty God. … I stormed what was considered the … inaccessible heights of Lookout Mountain. I captured it. … This feat will be celebrated until time shall be no more.

In some ways the battle was actually more of a skirmish.  Casualties were light for the Union, only 408.  Confederate casualties were higher, totaling 1251, with an additional 1064 captured or missing.

Grant, who had never had any use for Hooker, in his memoirs denigrated the “battle”:

The Battle of Lookout Mountain is one of the romances of the war. There was no such battle and no action even worthy to be called a battle on Lookout Mountain. It is all poetry.

The Union troops who participated in taking Lookout Mountain would beg to differ.  After the fighting around Chattanooga was over many of them had photographs taken on Lookout Mountain, clearly proud of their accomplishment:

Union troops posing on Lookout Mountain

Here is Hooker’s report of the battle: Continue Reading