November 24, 1863: Battle Above the Clouds

Monday, November 25, AD 2013

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:

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September 24, 1863: Hooker to Chattanooga

Tuesday, September 24, AD 2013

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.

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One Response to September 24, 1863: Hooker to Chattanooga

Letter to Hooker

Tuesday, January 29, AD 2013

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

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14 Responses to Letter to Hooker

  • The current President gives different letters and different orders to his generals. Supposedly he is now making as a litmus test for promotion the question of whether or not a military leader would fire on American citizens (according to Jim Garrow on Facebook).

    http://www.teaparty.org/obama-asks-military-leaders-if-they-will-fire-on-us-citizens-19039/

    Is that true? If so, then we face not a military dictatorship but a malevolent tyrant who is disarming American citizens and will use force to shove his ways down our throats. It won’t be pink fascism any longer, but the bloody red Nazism that the unborn already suffer. But maybe I am a pessimist.

  • “(according to Jim Garrow on Facebook).”

    Color me unimpressed Paul by a hearsay statement from a Nobel Peace Prize “nominee”. (Anyone can be nominated for a Nobel Prize by anyone. I could nominate you today for a Nobel Prize and you would be an official Nobel Prize nominee.) Jim Garrow has a history as a flake.
    The more accurate criticism of Obama as commander in chief is that he has sacrificed military effectiveness to the Gods of Political Correctness in regard to homosexuals in the military and now this ludicrous move to put women into the Combat Arms. You can bet that military leaders are being promoted to high rank now on the basis of their willingness to support these policies rather than on the basis of their military competence.

  • Thank you for the correction, Donald. I knew nothing about Jim Garrow. The internet is a cesspool, especially Facebook, and it’s hard to know what’s real and credible and what isn’t if one isn’t an expert in the subject field.

  • The internet is a great resource for spreading both truth and lies. Distinguishing between the two is often not a simple task.

  • So you’re saying the first Letter from a sitting president to a Hooker was from Abe Lincoln and NOT Bill Clinton?

  • There were a lot of people in the north looking for a man on a white horse. Whatever else his flaws, it is to McClellan’s very great credit that he dismissed such talk, and tried to win the Presidency the old fashioned way.

    Hooker was a fine corps commander, but my, did Marse Robert ever take up rent-free residence in his head.

  • Ha, Lincoln would surely recognize the lust for dictatorship, having so so firmly flirted with it himself by his various actions in contravention of the constitution.

    I know, I know, the ends justified the means.

  • You can bet that military leaders are being promoted to high rank now on the basis of their willingness to support these policies rather than on the basis of their military competence.

    Scary!

  • “Ha, Lincoln would surely recognize the lust for dictatorship, having so so firmly flirted with it himself by his various actions in contravention of the constitution.”

    Tom I defy you to find anything done by Lincoln to preserve the Union that Davis did not do to destroy it. I also defy you to find anything that Lincoln did that was not supported by a majority of Congress. Lincoln of course went before the people in 1864 and was reelected resoundingly. “Dictators” should be made of sterner stuff.

  • The only thing that Lincoln did that was remotely dictatorial was suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The problem for the neoconfederates is that a) this is permitted by the Constitution during times of rebellion, and b) this was an act approved by Congress.

  • Don, if you haven’t read it, David Williams’ “Bitterly Divided” is an eye-opener with respect to how much the Richmond regime was hated by the “plain folk” of the South. Provost marshals were to wartime Dixie what slave-catchers were to the antebellum North.

  • It sounds interesting Dale. There were plenty of whites who grumbled about a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. As a whole the white population remained pretty loyal to the Confederacy but the lost cause mythology of a unified white South behind the Confederacy was never true and became less true as the War became increasingly grim for the South.

  • If Lincoln had sufficient competent generals at the beginning of the War, it would have ended much sooner.

  • Generalship in the West for the Union was suffient unto the task from 1862. The War in the East was another matter and Grant just barely filled the bill against Lee.