The rugged northern end of Missionary Ridge challenged the western expansion of the Southeastern United States. When Georgia was Building the Western and Atlantic Railroad in 1850 it took a northern route through the South Chickamauga River Valley that required crossing the river 3 times to avoid the mountain. Although the Western and Atlantic Railroad went around Missionary Ridge, the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad began work on the Whiteside Tunnel in 1856, which gave the hill on the northern end of Missionary Ridge the nickname Tunnel Hill. In front of Tunnel Hill, but not geologically part of Missionary Ridge, was Goat (or Billy Goat) Hill, named for the goats that would spend time looking for patches of grass on the hill.
Billy Goat Hill had one technical advantage over Missionary Ridge - it was the highest point at the rugged northern end of Missionary Ridge. Soldiers atop the knoll would be looking down on anybody on Missionary Ridge.
Today, Billy Goat Hill is known as Lightburn Hill and the area of the battle is preserved as Sherman Reservation.
On November 23, 1863, Jefferson C. Davis's division, reassigned to Sherman from General George Thomas's Army of the Cumberland, was the first to cross Baldy Smith's new pontoon bridge over the Tennessee River below the confluence of North Chickamauga Creek. Davis's men took a defensive position to protect the approach to the bridge from the east. On the evening of Nov. 23 two more of Sherman's division commanders, Morgan Smith and John Smith (not related) crossed the Tennessee River, moved past Davis's perimeter and settled in to wait for Thomas Ewing. Finally, about noon on the 24th, Ewing completed his crossing. Sherman then turned his attention on taking the northern end of Missionary Ridge, ordering J. Smith and M. Smith to advance.
With two divisions advancing on Billy Goat Hill a Rebel lookout sent word to Braxton Bragg that Yankees were advancing in force on the northern end of Missionary Ridge. Bragg walked out of his command post and told Pat Cleburne to take his division and fortify the northern end of Missionary Ridge near the railroad tunnel. Tunnel Hill was important because holding it would preserve Bragg's line of retreat.
On the afternoon of November 24, 1863, two Yankee divisions advanced in a battleline formation (four abreast with skirmishers in front and on the side) toward Billy Goat Hill. One of Cleburne's officers, General James Smith and his Texans tried to take Billy Goat Hill, but realized the Yankees had taken it in force from the west just as Smith began to ascend it from the east. The best Smith could muster was a skirmish line to protect his retreat to the northern slope of Tunnel Hill.
As Sherman ascended Billy Goat Hill Union General John Smith realized that Pat Cleburne was taking a position on the hill next to them and that a deep gully separated Billy Goat Hill (the hill the Yankees took) and the hill now defended by the Rebels (Tunnel Hill, part of Missionary Ridge). Sherman decided to wait until daylight on the 25th to continue his advance.
Cleburne had nearly three-quarters of a mile to defend with three brigades. From the northern end of Missionary Ridge to troops under W. H. T. Walker south of the railroad tunnel was to be defended by Cleburne's Division. The Confederate commander felt he might have to withdraw quickly and ordered his caissons and ordinance wagons to clear the road in case he had to retreat.
Early on November 25, The Eighth Kentucky took an outcrop near the top of Lookout Mountain and placed a U. S. flag in a prominent position. About the same time Cleburne received word that Bragg intended to stand his ground. The Confederate sent word to his wagons to return.
As Grant ascended Orchard Knob that morning, he fully expected Sherman to find the Rebels gone from Missionary Ridge. Grant had seen Rebel wagons "passing down the Summertown Road" and felt Bragg was retreating. When Grant saw the manned rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge from his post on Orchard Knob his hopes were dashed.
Sherman could attack Cleburne's position from three sides, theoretically. The problem was none of the advancing units would be able to see each other, and line of sight was the only means to coordinate the attacks. Sherman turned to his foster brother Hugh Ewing for the primary attack along the ridge of Tunnel Hill. Ewing selected John Corse to lead his brigade against James Smith's Texans, now holding the promontory of Tunnel Hill.
Corse led his brigade as it advanced upon the Texans. but the Yankee advance was halted with rifle fire and canister in front of the Texans breastwork. The Texans turned the tide and chased Corse and his Ohioans toward the northern end of Tunnel Hill. When both James Smith and his XO were wounded during the Rebel counterattack, Hiram Granbury, a colonel in the 7th Texas, assumed command of Smith's brigade.
Corse and his men had been repulsed but not defeated. Leading a second group of Yankees, Corse advanced to the Texans breastworks and engaged the Southerners in hand-to-hand combat before the Yankees were again repulsed. Back on the northern end of Missionary Ridge at 10:30 am Corse ordered his men to pick off the Rebels around Swett's battery that had inflicted so much damage with canister on Corse's men.
Granbury quickly realized the situation and sent more men to support the artillery battery. Cleburne worked on positioning his men and at noon ordered 2 of Swett's heavy cannon to support. With the second charge Corse realized he would need help driving the Confederate forces from Tunnel Hill. Just behind the treeline west of the Confederate line sat a second brigade under John Loomis.
Orders came through to advance after Corse's second attack failed, but Loomis could not see the Yankee position north of the Rebel line. When Loomis's men stepped out into the open their right flank was lined up with the railroad tunnel, creating a gap of nearly 400 yards between the two Yankee brigades. Because Corse could not see the advance he could not support it. About half-way to the Confederate line Loomis's men stopped, giving Pat Cleburne a chance to reinforce key positions.
Loomis called for support on his left and men under Adolphus Buschbeck advanced and drove Alfred Cummings Georgians from a farmhouse, but not before they set fire to the building. Buschbeck's advance to the Glass farmhouse took them away from Loomis's left flank. Lacking a means of communicating with Buschbeck, Loomis could only watch as Buschbeck pulled further away from his left flank. To fill the gap on his left flank Loomis sent orders to Charles Mathias to move his brigade forward. As he advanced to the field of battle his brigade also pulled away from Loomis's flank.
For nearly 7 hours the battle raged. Wave after wave of Union brigades threw themselves against the Rebel defenses as reinforcements arrived from both Hardee and Stevenson. Then, as the Army of the Cumberland began to "demonstrate" in front of Missionary Ridge, Cleburne decided to counterattack the federal position.
Cumming's Georgians were tapped to make a frontal assault on Sherman's disorganized units. Federal troops on the hill were easily routed. Cleburne was unable to consolidate his gains because of the Army of the Cumberland breakthrough on Missionary Ridge.
Entrance to Sherman Reservation, site of the Battle on Tunnel Hill