Major General Joseph Hooker

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

September 24, 1863: Hooker to Chattanooga

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was an irascible and cantankerous man who didn’t suffer fools, or anyone else for that matter, gladly.  He was often a pain to be around.  However he more than made up for his lack of people skills, with driving energy, imagination and tenacity.  These characteristics all came into play in the wake of the Union defeat at Chickamauga.

On the night of September 23, 1863 he went to the White House and took the drastic step of summoning the President from his bed to attend a hurried council of war.  Stanton proposed to dispatch to Chattanooga from the Army of the Potomac the XI and XII corps, some 20,000 men.  Lincoln was dubious that the troops, having to travel some 1200 miles by rail, would arrive in time to aid Rosecrans.  Stanton came prepared for this objection.  Present at the meeting was Colonel D.C. McCallum, head of the Department of Military Railroads, who, at Stanton’s prompting, promised that the troops could be shipped in a week, and vouched for it with his life.  Lincoln, reassured, agreed to the plan.  The expedition was to be commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac given another opportunity to play a major role in the War. Continue reading

Letter to Hooker

Joe Hooker

One hundred and fifty years ago last Saturday, President Abraham Lincoln sent what is doubtless the most unusual letter ever sent by an American president to an American general:

Executive Mansion Washington, January 26, 1863

Major General Hooker: General.

I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and a skilful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm. But I think that during Gen. Burnside’s command of the Army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of it’s ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the Army, of criticising their Commander, and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can, to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army, while such a spirit prevails in it.

And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln Continue reading

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