November 15, 1863: The plan for Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman

Map of Chattanooga campaign

An excerpt from Sherman’s after-action report. Sherman preceded his troops into Chattanooga at Grant’s order, and went with Grant to view the terrain. His assignment was to secure the north end of Missionary Ridge, leaving some troops to help take Lookout Mountain. He mentions the problem of the weak pontoon bridge at Bridgeport; it would delay him far more than they realized at the time.

Official Records:


At Fayetteville I received orders from General Grant to come to Bridgeport with the Fifteenth Army Corps, and leave General Dodge’s command at Pulaski and along the railroad from Columbia to Decatur.

I instructed General Blair to follow with the Second and First Divisions by way of New Market, Larkinsville, and Bellefonte, while I conducted the other two divisions by Decherd, the Fourth Division crossing the mountains to Stevenson, and the Third by University Place and Sweeden’s Cover.

In person I proceeded by Sweeden’s Cover and Battle Creek, reaching Bridgeport at night of November 13.

I immediately telegraphed to the commanding general my arrival and the position of my several divisions, and was summoned to Chattanooga. I took the first boat during the night of the 14th for Kelley’s, and rode into Chattanooga on the 15th. I then learned the part assigned me in the coming drama, was supplied with the necessary maps and information, and rode during the 16th, in company with Generals Grant, thomas, William F. Smith, Brannan, and others to a position on the west bank of the Tennessee, from which could be seen the camps of the enemy compassing Chattanooga and the line of Missionary Hills, with its terminus on Chickamauga Creek, the point that I was expected to take, hold, and fortify.

Pontoons, with a full supply of balks and chesses, had been prepared for the bridge over the Tennessee, and all things prearranged with a foresight that elicited my admiration. From the hills we looked down on the amphitheater of Chattanooga as on a map, and nothing remained but for me to put my troops in the desired position.

The plan contemplated that, in addition to crossing the Tennessee and making a lodgment on the terminus of Missionary Ridge, I should demonstrate against Lookout Mountain, near Trenton, with a part of my command. All in Chattanooga were impatient for action, rendered almost acute by the natural apprehension felt for the safety of General Burnside in East Tennessee. My command
had marched from Memphis, and I had pushed them as fast as the roads and distance would permit, but I saw enough of the condition of men and animals in Chattanooga to inspire me with renewed energy.

I immediately ordered my leading division (Ewing’s) to march, via Shellmound, to Trenton, demonstrate against Lookout Ridge, but to be prepared to turn quickly and follow me to Chattanooga; and in person I returned to Bridgeport, rowing a boat down the Tennessee from Kelley’s, and, immediately on arrival, put in motion my divisions in the order they had arrived.

The bridge of boats at Bridgeport was frail, and, though used day and night, our passage was slow, and the road thence to Chattanooga was dreadfully cut up and encumbered with the wagons of the other troops stationed along the road.

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