|A Union Account of Mission Ridge
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|Author:||Joe Meyer [ Sun Mar 13, 2016 3:08 pm ]|
|Post subject:||A Union Account of Mission Ridge|
The following extract is from the regimental history of the 41st Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry, which at the time of the assault upon Mission Ridge was part of Hazen's 2nd Brigade, Wood's 3rd Division, Granger's IV Corps, Army of the Cumberland. It is one of the most fascinating and detailed accounts of one regiment's experience there that I have read.
"Next day, the 25th of November, Sherman began his attack on the enemy's right flank, which was on Mission Ridge, far to the left of the line at Orchard Knob. Grant's headquarters were established at the latter point, and all of Thomas' army was on the line. Hooker's troops were in the valley in front of Chattanooga, to operate in the direction of Rossville. The line of the Army of the Cumberland squarely faced Mission Ridge, and nearly opposite the centre of that line was Bragg's headquarters on the Ridge. At the foot of the Ridge, directly in front of the Forty-first, was a line of log breastworks in front of a winter camp which the enemy had built. The shanties had stick-and-mud chimneys, all arranged for occupancy in cold weather. Above this camp, on top of the Ridge, artillery was in position, and this was added to during the earlier part of the day.
"Almost from the beginning of Sherman's attack away to the left, the Confederates could be seen moving along the top of the Ridge in that direction. Relying on the natural strength of the position in front of Thomas' army, and not alarmed at Hooker's movement toward Rossville, Bragg was hurrying his troops to his threatened right flank. The weary hours dragged on with watching of this movement on the Ridge, but at last the order came. Six guns were to be fired from Grant's headquarters at Orchard Knob, as a signal for a general advance on the Ridge.
"The men were called to attention and the stacks of arms broken. The color-bearers unfurled the flags and shook them out. Field and staff officers took their places. In the rear the surgeons mustered their stretcher-bearers. Everything was in readiness when the six guns were fired from Orchard Knob, and instantly the army moved briskly forward in well-ordered lines. Passing the strip of bushy woodland on the little ridge from which the start was made, the lines came out into the open plain which stretched to the foot of Mission Ridge. It must have been the sight of a lifetime to the Confederates on the Ridge—those double lines of blue, marked at intervals with the crimson flags and fringed with the glittering arms carried at a right shoulder; stretching away to right and left, division after division, along the plain above and below. But their artillerymen took little time to admire the splendid pageant. Fifty guns massed to the left of Bragg's headquarters burst forth in rapid fire, and the air above the Union lines was filled with bursting shells. But these were all too high; the fragments fell far behind the advancing lines. The first effect of that tremendous discharge of artillery was stunning; but in a moment it was plain that no harm was being done. The much-talked-of moral effect of big guns was missing; there was no wavering in the lines. Rather, a feeling of new confidence came upon the men as they moved on, always too fast for the Confederates' depressing of their pieces. In the Forty-first, one man was struck on the shoulder by a fragment of shell, but this was the extent of the casualties from several tons of shells.
"At the moment of starting, the Confederate infantry could be seen still hurrying on toward Sherman. But this was quickly stopped when Thomas' magnificent menace came into view. Better risk Sherman on the right with too few men, than this host steadily moving on the centre. The Ridge was high and steep, and the ascent was obstructed with gullies and felled timber. But this oncoming army—would it storm the Ridge, disdaining the obstructions? Brown's Ferry, Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain—these were samples of the enterprise which Bragg must face. He could not recall the men gone against Sherman, but he could stop that movement, and he did.
"As the Forty-first, in its place in line, approached the log breastworks at the foot of the Ridge, the Confederates posted there sprang up and ran up the Ridge, taking paths that led obliquely to the top. The battery on Orchard Knob fired at these flying men on their way up the Ridge, but this was mere boy's play, and likely to do more mischief to friend than to foe. The order given out when the start was made was to take the line at the foot of the Ridge. This line was abandoned by the enemy before the assailants could reach it, as has been told. Coming up to the line of logs, the Forty-first threw itself down against the logs for shelter, and the second line of troops followed and did the same. The infantry on the Ridge had opened a severe fire, and the artillery, by firing obliquely down the face of the steep slope, was able to be effective. Both arms together made the firing hot, and damage was done. The shelter of the logs was insufficient for refuge for a single line, and two were here. Then the logs were laid at angles like a rail fence, and some of the faces thus formed were enfiladed from the top of the Ridge. The mounted officers, of course, had dismounted—whatever was to be done, it was plain that horses could go no farther in that fight. The animals were set loose, and most of them galloped off to the rear. But Col. Wiley's horse, bewildered by the din of battle, hung about the feet of the prostrate men, and was likely enough to tread on them. The Colonel rose from the ground to turn the horse's head to the rear and drive him away. Wiley's hand was on the bridle as he turned the horse about, when he himself sank to the ground, his leg shattered at the knee by a rifle ball. The command of the battalion thus fell to Lieut. Col. Kimberly.
"The Confederate fire was increasing, and they were getting the range more accurately with both small arms and artillery. No fight could be made from that insufficient and overcrowded shelter, but there were no orders for any further movement—all orders given had been fulfilled. It was destruction to remain, it was impossible to withdraw without confusion and great loss. The roar of battle from the Ridge was deafening; no command could be heard at the distance of a company front. Hazen lay on the ground a rod away from Kimberly, and signaled to go forward. Kimberly and a dozen officers and men nearest him sprang to their feet shouting to the others, then jumped the logs and ran forward to the shanties of the winter camp. This movement instantly spread right and left, and the whole battalion dashed forward to the ascent of the Ridge. It was the intention to gather the men behind the shanties for a better beginning of the ascent, but this could not be done. The oblique fire of the Confederate artillery knocked the shanties about the heads of the men, while the infantry riddled them with bullets. So the start was made as it could be. Once the ascent was begun, however, the men came together, for the gullied and broken face of the Ridge afforded shelter not to be found on the level ground below. All the Confederate fire was also less effective, though it was not lessened. On went the assailants, closing together as they made their way over or around obstructions. As they neared the top, a battery to the right, which from first to last had done more damage than all the rest, came into full view at little more than pistol range. Kimberly called to his nearest men to pick off the gunners. When the first of these men dropped on one knee and fired, an artilleryman plunged headlong to the ground in the act of passing a cartridge. A dozen other shots followed instantly, and that battery fired no more. The artillery immediately in front could not sufficiently depress its guns, so steep was the ascent, and when the battery to the right was still, there was an end of the trouble from artillery.
"The Forty-first was near the top, the enemy's line of works in full view, not a stone's throw away. Just to the left of the Forty-first, Bassett Langdon was leading his First Ohio straight at the works, himself the foremost figure, his men following as they could keep up with his long legs. For an instant he was seen to stagger as a rifle ball went through his cheeks from side to side; then recovered, ran to the works, and fired every cartridge in his revolver at the enemy. But they were leaving their works. The Forty-first came up and over, the enemy a confused mass of fugitives a hundred yards or so down the slope to the rear. Not that their spirit was all gone; two or three of their officers began to rally them, and in a moment had half a regiment in line. The victors were flushed, jubilant, and for the moment careless. Then the flag of the Forty-first was advanced toward the gathering Confederate force, and the men leaped forward into line. That was enough for the enemy; brave as they were, they had just then no heart to stand another charge. Meantime, Fetterly, Kramer and others of the Forty-first had seized the destructive battery to the right. One of the pieces was wheeled to the right, pointing toward Bragg's headquarters, where the enemy was still holding out. The piece was loaded, but the men had no primer. They emptied a cartridge into the vent, and then one of them discharged his Springfield rifle over it. The shell skimmed the ground and burst in front of the Confederate headquarters. In another moment, Newton's division had them all in flight. In the coming dusk a horseman was seen to ride down the rear slope from Bragg's quarters. He was said to be Braxton Bragg himself—I do not know.
"About Hazen's headquarters that night were gathered eighteen pieces of captured artillery. Six of these fell to the Forty-first and its comrades in the fight, the Ninety-third, and the Forty-first had a Confederate battle flag.
"While the men were still exulting over the victory, the new division commander, Gen. Thomas J. Wood, rode in among them. He, too, was jubilant. "Men," he cried, "I'll have you all court martialed. You were ordered to take the rifle-pits at the foot of the Ridge, and here you've got the Ridge itself and all of Bragg's artillery!"
"In the two days of battle here, the Forty-first lost 115 men, nearly all of them the first day, at Orchard Knob. That brief but desperate struggle was, with one exception, the most costly one encountered by the regiment. Compared with Orchard Knob, the general action which carried the apparently impregnable position on Mission Ridge was but a trifle, so far as losses in the Forty-first are concerned. In the second fight there was a loss not to be estimated in numbers. Col. Wiley lost his leg as the result of the wound which has been mentioned above. Perhaps the loss of this commander may be best understood by reading the characterization of him in Hazen's book of recollections of army service. "Wiley," says Hazen, "was the most efficient regimental commander, regular or volunteer, I ever knew."
"One of the minor incidents which deserves to be recorded as of the kind that can not be forgotten, occurred when the regiment was half way up Mission Ridge in the assault. A boy who was enlisted in A company as a drummer, but who went into this battle carrying a gun, came trembling to the regimental commander when the fight was hottest. He stood at attention, but he could not salute, for with his right hand he held across his breast his shattered left arm. He was faint with the shock and the loss of blood; and his face, as smooth and fresh as a girl's, was pallid under the pain he bore. But he would report himself. "Colonel," he said, "I must go and have my arm fixed." And tottered off down the Ridge through the storm of battle.
"There has been much dispute about the details of the Mission Ridge fight, especially as to orders or absence of orders to assault the Ridge after the line at the foot had been gained, and as to the troops first in the works at the summit. In regard to orders to assault the Ridge, there can be no question so far as Hazen's brigade is concerned. No command could have been communicated to the brigade as it lay close to the ground behind the line of logs. In the din of the tremendous fusillade from the summit, it was impossible to make a command heard by so much as a regiment. Orders could go only from man to man, in the way described above, as the beginning of the movement of the Forty-first. Gen. Wood's words of greeting to the victors on the Ridge, heretofore quoted in this narrative, seem to be conclusive proof that no orders for the assault were given by or through the division commander. It is certain, then, that Wood's division had no orders; Hazen always said he had none; what orders the Forty-first had, and how they came, is told above. The assault, by this part of Thomas' army at least, was the voluntary movement of an intelligent soldiery, without direction from the higher officers of the army. It was the judgment of the soldiers, not the orders of the commanders, which brought about the assault.
"As to the first arrivals at the summit, no attempt will be made here to settle that question. The essential fact is that the enemy in front of the Forty-first were driven from their works by that regiment; if any other command had cleared its front before the Forty-first entered the Confederate works, that fact did not affect the fight of this regiment, the enemy in its front holding out until the regiment was right upon them, ready to use the bayonet.
"The victory was a new experience to the Forty-first. It carried its point of attack at Shiloh only to waste itself in wild and fruitless pursuit. In the defensive fighting at Stone River and Chickamauga, it kept its ground, gaining nothing beyond the repulse of the enemy. At Brown's Ferry it made the capture, barren of trophies and leaving the enemy still in the field, aggressive as opportunity offered. But in the two days of Mission Ridge, there were substantial fruits of victory. The first day's fight left the defenders of the line at Orchard Knob prisoners in our hands, with their captured flag testifying the completeness of the conquest. When Mission Ridge was crowned, there remained no organized enemy in front—nothing but crowds of flying soldiers hunting the security of the woods beyond the Ridge, anxious only to get away from the field on which they left their dead and wounded and prisoners, with their artillery. There was an indescribable exhilaration among the victors; they trod on air as they went about amid their trophies. Was not Chickamauga avenged? Under its new leadership, what should balk this army? And yet, they did not fully know the importance of that day's work—that the taking of Mission Ridge was one of the marvelous feats of arms of all ages."
|Author:||Ernie Sands [ Sun Mar 13, 2016 4:45 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Re: A Union Account of Mission Ridge|
|Author:||David Danner [ Mon Mar 14, 2016 5:58 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Re: A Union Account of Mission Ridge|
I enjoyed this reading of the 41st's exploits. Having read many a police report this officer's account sure game me the "who, what, when, where, how, and how much."
|Author:||Berto [ Tue Mar 15, 2016 1:56 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: A Union Account of Mission Ridge|
Joe Meyer wrote:
... the taking of Mission Ridge was one of the marvelous feats of arms of all ages.
Somebody should make a movie about this.
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