General Carter Stevenson [CS] was worried. Troops from Chattanooga, Tennessee had been pouring across Brown's Ferry and into Lookout Valley. Even the Rebel attack that destroyed Baldy Smith's pontoon bridge across the Tennessee River only slowed troop movement to the western side of Lookout Mountain. More than 10,000 Union soldiers were in position, appearing ready to attack Stevenson's roughly 1,200 Rebels on the slopes and at the top of Lookout Mountain. On the evening of November_23, 1863, Stevenson signaled Army of Tennessee commander Braxton Bragg about his concern.
That was a good idea. It had been assumed that Bragg had left enough men to protect the easily defended peak. He had not. General Ambrose Burnside [US] in Knoxville was a serious problem for Bragg, who had stripped his troops to the bare minimum to send men to the northeast Tennessee city. It was a mistake that may have cost the Confederacy the war.
"Fighting Joe" Hooker came up with a brilliant plan to mitigate the advantage the Rebels had by controlling Lookout Mountain. Rather than trying to take the top of the mountain his men would cross Lookout Creek, move up the slope of the mountain, then sweep the Confederates towards the north end of the mountain. It worked like a charm.
Battle of Lookout Mountain
At 8:00am pioneers (engineers) under Brigadier General John Geary began bridging Lookout Creek near an old dam. At 8:30am three companies of Union soldiers crossed the creek and quietly formed a bridgehead in fog. Their quiet approach netted 42 Rebel pickets without a shot being fired. Geary's three brigades under Charles Candy, George Cobham and David Ireland moved up the mountainside stretching from a point about 300 feet below the rim to the base of the mountain. Supporting them was Walter Whitaker, who was actually part of Phil Sheridan's command in the Army of the Cumberland.
Opposing Geary were 3 Rebel brigades of some 1200 men who had dug into Lookout mountain expecting a frontal assault (from the base, not from the side). Edward Walthall's men were closest to the crossing, while John Moore's men held the ground closer to the Tennessee River. Both commanders had been reassigned to Carter Stevenson from Frank Cheatham's Division. Edmund Pettus held the mountainside on the east.
As Lookout Mountain rises its slope becomes steeper and about 300 feet below the top the slope is near-vertical and strewn with large boulders. Not only did the Rebel commanders feel this was an impregnable fortress, so did Joe Hooker.
Once Geary's men reached about two-thirds of the way up the slope they stopped climbing and began to move in a line parallel to the top of the mountain. The Confederates were prepared for a force coming up the hill, not at them from the side. Now they pulled back under fire, giving ground up slowly but steadily. Walthall tried to coordinate a defense by forming a line up the mountain. By noon Geary's men had pushed Waltham back to Moore's line and were approaching the front of the mountain with no sign of the Rebels turning the Yankee tide.
A fog obscured the view of both the Rebels and Yankees fighting on the mountain as well as the men in the Army of the Cumberland in the Chattanooga Valley and the Confederates on Missionary Ridge. It was this meteorological phenomena that gave the fighting on Lookout Mountain its nickname, "The Battle Above the Clouds." Through the fog Confederate artillery shells and canister fired from the top of Lookout Mountain would pass over the heads of the advancing Union soldiers, but Hooker's artillery on the far side of Lookout Creek was highly effective once it could tell the location of the Union line. Occasionally the fog would lift briefly so that the Union Army in the Chattanooga Valley could see the action.
Halfway up on the northern slope of Lookout Mountain a plateau holds the home of Robert Cravens, a wealthy industrialist who played an important role during the first 50 years of Chattanooga's history and its Iron Industry. Cravens House had been covered with fog for most of the morning. As Union troops approached the level ground the fog lifted. Not only could the men on Lookout Mountain see each other, but the men in the valley below could see the action as well. With a sudden burst, the Union soldiers appeared and captured the plateau from unprepared Rebel defenders. Then the Confederates battled back, trying to buy time for their fellow soldiers to establish a line east of the home. The fog then returned.
The name probably rings a bell with most people not as a Confederate general, but for the bridge that bears his name in Selma, Alabama. It was here that Civil Rights marchers including Dr. Martin Luther King were beaten and tear-gassed on March 7, 1965 ("Bloody Sunday"). President Johnson ordered the National Guard to protect the marchers, who successfully crossed the bridge later that month.
Relentlessly, Hooker's juggernaut march on. It seemed as if nothing would prevent the Union Army from surrounding Lookout Mountain and trapping the artillery on the top. Then the Confederates got a series of unexpected breaks. Geary halted the forward advance of the Union line to regroup. While Geary was regrouping General Hooker ordered Geary to maintain his position, however, all was not stagnant on the Rebel lines.
Brigadier General Edmund Pettis moved his men into position to support Walthall and at 2:30 the Rebel line began to advance, although still greatly outnumbered. The advance was short-lived. The Battle Above the Clouds ended abruptly at 4:00pm when Stevenson received orders to withdraw from his position on Lookout Mountain and joined Bragg on Missionary Ridge.