East of Chattanooga to northwest Georgia a ripple of land known as Missionary Ridge presented challenges to many people during the mid-1800's. First, railroads building track had to go around it or through its' gaps to build the Western and Atlantic Railroad and other lines. Then Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army had to penetrate it to break the siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Confederate Braxton Bragg arranged the Army of Tennessee in standard formation, a forward picket line protecting his main body of infantry and artillery. Bragg's headquarters behind the line atop Missionary Ridge was visible from Orchard Knob. Both Bragg and Grant felt the position was strong. In fact, convinced that he was unassailable, Bragg had detached 15,000 men to attack Ambrose Burnside in Knoxville.
General Carter Stevenson, retreating from his loss during the Battle Above the Clouds destroyed the bridges over Chickamauga Creek and other waterways to slow Hooker's advance. Sherman, in spite of a tremendous tactical advantage, could not turn the right flank. The Army of the Cumberland under command of General George Thomas had been demonstrating in front of Missionary Ridge to prevent Bragg from reinforcing his flanks. With no visible signs of success for the day's fighting Grant ordered Thomas to take the line of pickets in front of Bragg's main formation. At 3:30 pm the Federals began their advance. They quickly overran the position and tried to use the entrenchments to protect themselves from the intense gunfire from the ridge. Officers ordered the men to build the back walls higher, but the Union line was under too much pressure.
Watching from Orchard Knob, Grant and Thomas turned away from the battle when they realized the dilemma. The men had two choices:Advance on the Rebel line at the top of Missionary Ridge or retreat to Orchard Knob. Without orders Thomas's men began to charge the ridge. Informed of the advance past the picket line Grant and Thomas turned back and watched as the men moved on the fortified Rebel position. Fearful that if the charge failed the Confederates could advance and rout his army, Grant inquired of the men around him who ordered the charge. "I don't know,.." Thomas responded, "I did not."
As more Federals began to follow the men who started up the hill, a rhythmic chant started. "Chickamauga, Chickamauga" the enlisted men repeated over and over. Line officers, caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment rushed to the front and began to lead the men with cries of "Follow me!" As the men approached the line the artillery became less effective because it had been misplaced at the crest of the ridge. Yankees poured through the lines. Bragg ordered a retreat then barely escaped himself. Many of his staff were not as lucky. Over 3,000 Confederate prisoners were taken during the battle. Hooker was ordered to pursue the losers and Grant had succeeded in breaking the siege of Chattanooga.
Directions: I-24 to Exit 181, Hwy 27 South Rossville Blvd. Continue to South Crest Rd. Turn left on South Crest Road.