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Missionary Ridge

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

A day the twenty-first the shattered blue army lay in position at Rossville, five miles away. But Bragg, his army likewise shattered and exhausted, his ammunition failing, did not attack. At night Rosecrans withdrew to Chattanooga, en-trenching himself there. On the twenty-second, Bragg followed, and took up position on Missionary Ridge and along the lower slopes of Lookout. The blue base of supplies was at Stevenson, in Alabama, forty miles away. Cut the road to this place and Rosecrans might be compelled to evacuate Chattanooga.

Bragg sent Law's brigade to hold the Jasper road. Wheeler, too, in a raid, wrought mischief to the blue. To the latter the possession of the Tennessee River and the building of a bridge became of supreme importance. Down the stream Rosecrans sent fifteen hundred men and a flotilla of pontoons, while a land force marched to guard them. Before the grey could gather to the attack the bridge was built. A day or two later came to the aid of the blue "Fighting Joe" Hooker and two corps of the Army of the Potomac. On the twenty-second of October, Grant arrived in Chattanooga and superseded Rosecrans.

There occurred the night battle of Wauhatchie, — four brigades of Hood's attacking Geary 's division of the Twelfth Corps, — a short, hard fight, where each side lost five hundred men and nothing gained. But now to the South to lose five hundred men was to lose five hundred drops of heart's blood, impossible of replacement. Men now in the South were worth their weight in gold.

There came to the grey camps news that Sherman, with a considerable force, was on the road from Memphis. Hooker, with the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, was here. Grant was here. From the Knoxville side Burnside threatened. Action became imperative.

Bragg acted, but not, perhaps, with wisdom. On the fourth of November, Longstreet's corps and Wheeler's cavalry found themselves under orders for Knoxville. Longstreet remonstrated, but orders were orders. Grey First Corps, grey cavalry marched away, marched away. The weakened force before Chattanooga looked dubious, shook its head. Later, Bragg detached two other brigades from the thin grey lines and sent them after Longstreet on the Knoxville campaign. Burnside was to be fought there, and here were only Hooker, Grant, and Sherman!

Ten thousand infantry and artillery, five thousand horse, marched away. The loss at Chickamauga had been perhaps sixteen thousand. What remained of the Army of Tennessee had to hold an eight-mile line. It was a convex; right and left in hollow ground, the centre on the flank of Lookout Mountain and the crest of Missionary Ridge. On the twenty-second, Grant began under cover certain operations.

In this region the weather is mild, even on the twenty-fourth of November. A crimson yet burned in the oak leaves, and the air, though mist-laden, was not cold. Grey cliffs form a palisade on Lookout Mountain. Above is the scarped mountain-top, below, long wooded slopes sinking steeply to the levels through which bends and bends again the Tennessee. One grey brigade — Walthall's Mississippi brigade — was stationed on this shoulder of Lookout; below it steep woods, above it the cliffs, with creepers here and there yet scarlet-fingered. The day was tranquil, quiet, pearly grey, with fog upon the mountain-head. From early morning the fog everywhere had been very dense, so dense that men could not be distinguished at a hundred yards. It was known that affairs were on the point of moving. Walthall and his Mississippians were alert enough — and yet the day and the woods and the whole far-flung earth were so dreamy-calm, so misty-still, that any battle seemed impossible of quick approach. There was the odour of wet earth and rotting leaves, there was the dreamy, multitudinous forest stir, there was the vague drifting mist — the soul was lulled as in a steady boat. Walthall's men rested on the earth, by quiet little camp-fires. Their arms were at hand, but it seemed not a day of fighting. The day was like a grey nun. The men grew dreamy, too. They drawled their words. "This air a fine view, when it's right clear," they said. "Yes. This air a fine view. But when the Lord laid out the Tennessee River he surely took the serpent for a pattern! He surely did. Never see such a river for head and tail meeting — and I've seen a lot of rivers since Dan Tucker rang the court-house bell, and we all stood around and heard Secession proclaimed. Yes, sir. I've seen a lot of rivers, — big rivers and little rivers and middle-sized rivers, — but I never see a river twisted like the Lord 's twisted the Tennessee!" — "I wish," said a comrade, " that the Lord 'd come along and put his finger and thumb together and flip away those danged batteries over there on Moccasin Point — jest flip them away same as you'd flip a pig-nut. Kind of funny looking over there today anyhow! If I had a glass —"

"Captain 's got a glass. He 's looking —"

"So much fog you can't see nothing. There's batteries on the Ridge beyond Lookout Creek, too —"

"I kin usually feel it in my bones when we're going to have a fight. Don't feel nothing to-day, but just kind of studious-like. The world 's so awful quiet."

"Cleburne's men are away off there at Chickamauga Creek —"

"Most of the enemy's tents are gone," said the captain, "and they have removed their pontoon bridges. When this fog lifts —"

Walthall came by, talking to his adjutant. "As far as you can tell for the fog they are moving rapidly on the left. General Steven-son showed me an order from General Bragg. Stevenson has the whole defence on this side of Chattanooga Creek."

"Do you think they will attack today ?"

" Who can tell ? If this miserable fog would lift —"

Crack ! crack ! crack ! crack ! out of the woods to the westward rang the muskets of the picket line. Instantaneously, from the batteries on Moccasin Point, from the batteries on the ridge over the creek, sprang a leap of light that tore the fog. Followed thunder, and the ploughing of shells into the earth of Lookout. The grey brigade sprang to arms. In tumbled the pickets. "Yankees above us —"

"Above — I"

The Lookout cliffs were tall and grey. They crowned the mountain with an effect from below of robber castles. The November woods were so sere and leafless that in clear weather, looking up the long slopes, you would see with distinctness wall and bastion. To-day there was fog, fog torn by the crowding yellow flashes of many rifles. The flashes came from the base of the cliffs. They came from blue troops, troops that had crept from the west, around the shoulder of Lookout, along the base of the cliffs — troops that were many, troops of Hooker's that had come up from the valley of Lookout Creek, stealing up the mountain in silence and security, in the heavy fog. Now they hurrahed and sprang down from among the cliffs. Many and ready, they dropped as from the clouds; they took the grey brigade in reverse. And with instantaneous thunder the batteries opened all along the front.

The blue — Geary's division — came over the shoulder of the mountain in three lines. From time to time in the past weeks the grey had constructed rude works of stones and felled wood. Now the men fought from one to another of these; withdrawn from one base to a second, from a second to a third, they fought from facet to facet of Lookout. The ground was intolerably rough, with boulder and fallen timber and snares of leafless vines. Now the grey were upon a slope where the casemented batteries of Moccasin Point had full play. There was an old rifle-pit dug downward and across. It gave the men passing over this shoulder a certain vague and ineffective shelter. Walthall's men, forced from Lookout, came to Craven's house, and here, in hollow ground, made a stand and sent for reinforcements. Pettus's brigade appearing at last, the fight was renewed. It waged hotly for a while, but the odds were great. The November day spread its mists around. Mississippi and Alabama fought well on Lookout; but there was somehow a sinking at the heart, a dreary knowledge that Grant had perhaps a hundred thou-sand men and the Army of Tennessee a third of that number; that General Bragg was a good man, but not a soldier like Lee or Jackson or Johnston; that Longstreet should never have been detached; that there was a coldness in this thickening fog; that the guns on Moccasin Point were as venomous as its name; and that War was a nightmare oftener than one would think. Two months had passed since Chickamauga. That was a great battle, that was a great, glorious, terrible, hot-blooded, crashing battle, with the woods ringing and the blue breaking before you! This was not that. Two months of sickness, two months of hard picketing, two months of small rations and difficult to get, two months of dissatisfaction with the commanding general and his plan of campaign, of constant criticism, of soreness, of alternation between the fractious and the list-less, two months of fretting and waiting in an unhealthy season, in an unhealthy situation, — the Army of Tennessee was in a conceiving mood that differed palpably from the mood of Chickamauga! It was ready for bogies, ready for — what? It did not know. At dusk the command that had been posted on Lookout, pressed backward and down throughout the foggy day, halted at the foot of the mountain, on the road leading outward and across a half-mile of valley to. Missionary Ridge. Here in darkness and discontent it waited until midnight, when, under orders from Cheatham, it sank farther down to McFarland's Spring. At dawn it was marched across the lowland to Missionary Ridge, and was put into position on that solemn wave of earth. It found here the other commands forming the Confederate centre.

Patrick Cleburne, ordered with his division after Longstreet on the Knoxville expedition, received at Chickamauga Station a telegram from the general commanding. "We are heavily engaged. Move up rapidly to these headquarters."

Cleburne moved. That night, the night of the twenty-third, he spent immediately behind Missionary Ridge. With the first light he began to construct defences. It was known now that in great force Grant had crossed the Tennessee, both above and below Chickamauga. It was known that the great blue army, Grant with Sher-man and Hooker, had burst from Chattanooga like a stream in freshet; the dark blue waves were seen wherever the fog parted. They coloured all the lowland; they lifted themselves toward the heights. Already the waves had taken Lookout; already they were lapping against the foot of Missionary. Cleburne held the hollow ground on the right of Missionary, near the tunnel of the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad. His orders were to hold this right at all hazards. Cleburne obeyed. There was a detached ridge which he wished to gain before the blue, now rapidly advancing, should gain it. He sent Smith's Texas brigade, but the blue had greatly the start. When the Texans reached the foot of the ridge, they were fired upon from the top. Smith, turned by his right flank, climbed Missionary Ridge and took position upon its crest.

Below, in the hollow ground stretching toward the Chickamauga, Cleburne disposed the remainder of his troops. Hardee, experienced, able, stanch, came and approved. They burned a bridge across the Chickamauga. Dark was now at hand. The fog was disappearing, but the flames from the burning bridge had a curious, blurred, yellow, heatless effect. An aide came up with news.

"They've overrun Lookout, sir. Our men there have come over to Missionary."

"What loss ?

"I don't know, sir. Some one said they came like driftwood. I know that there's a flood gaining on us."

"Where there's a flood," said Cleburne, "thank the Saints, there's usually an Ark! Set the axes to work, Major. We're going to run a breastwork along here."

There was that night an eclipse of the moon. The men who were making the breastwork stopped their work when the blackness began to steal across. They watched it with a curious look upon their lifted faces. "That thar moon," said a man, — "that thar moon is the Confederacy, and that thar thing that's stealing across it — that thar thing 's the End!"

"That ain't the kind of talk —"

"Yes, it is the kind of talk! When you've come to the End, I want to know it. I ain't a-going to stop building breastworks and I ain't a-going to stop biting cartridges, but I want to know it. I want to be able to point my finger and say, 'Thar's the End."'

The black moved farther upon the silver shield. All the soldiers rested on their axes and looked upon it. "When the Confederacy ends I want to end, too, — right then and thar and hand in hand! But the Confederacy ain't going to end. I reckon we've given it enough blood to keep it going!"

But the first speaker remained a pessimist. "What we give our blood to is the earth and the sea. We don't give no blood to the Confederacy. The Confederacy ain't gaining blood; she's losing blood — drop by drop out of every vein. She lost a deal at Chickamauga and she 's going to lose a deal —"

"The black is three quarters over. God! ain't it eerie?"

"The man that says the Confederacy is going to end is a damned coward and traitor! That thing up there ain't nothing but a passing shadow —"

Cleburne came by. " Too dark to dig, boys ? Never mind ! There 'll be light enough by and by."

The black veil drew across, then slowly passed. Cold and bright the moon looked down. Cleburne's men built their breastwork, then, straightening themselves, wiped with the back of their hands the sweat from their brows. Their work had made them warm, but now was felt the mortal chill of the hour before dawn. The woods began to sigh. They made a mysterious, trembling sound beneath the concave of the sky. The sky paled; on the east above the leaf-less trees came a wash of purple, desolate and withdrawn. The November day broke slowly. There was a mist. It rose from the streams, it hung upon bush and tree, it hid enemy from enemy, it almost hid friend from friend.

With the light came skirmishing, and at sunrise the batteries opened from the ridge the blue had seized. At ten o'clock there arrived the Federal advance upon this front. It came through the light mist, in two long lines of battle. Its bands were playing. Davis's division, three divisions of Sherman's, Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac, Sherman commanding all. There was a hill near the tunnel, and Cleburne held this and the woodland rolling from the right. He had guns in position above the tunnel gaping like a black mouth in the hillside, gaping at the hurrahing rush of Sherman's men.

All day on this right the conflict howled. Hardee and Hardee's corps were cool and stanch; Cleburne was a trusted man, hilt and blade. Sherman launched his thunderbolts, blue charge after blue charge; "General Pat" flung them back. The sky was dark with the leaden rain; the November woods rang; Tunnel Hill, Swett's and Key's batteries, flamed through the murk; Texas and Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee, grappled with Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio. All day, to and fro, in the leafless woods, under the chill sky, over a rugged ground, they swung and swayed. Now the blue seemed uppermost, and now the grey, but at last the grey charged with bayonets. After this the blue rested, a sullen sea, held back by Tunnel Hill and all the grey-hued slopes around. The afternoon was well advanced, the smoke-draped woods dim enough. Cleburne's men smiled, nodding their heads. "That old eclipse wa'n't nothing! This Confederacy's immortal — Yes, she is! She's got a wreath of immortelles. —I'm going to ask General Pat if she has n't! You artillerymen did first-rate, and we infantry did first-rate, and if the cavalry had n't been sent away I reckon they'd have done as well as it lies in cavalry to do. — Now, if the centre and the left —"

A courier came over stock and stone, pushing a foam-flecked horse — "General Cleburne! — Order from General Hardee —"

Cleburne read: "General: Send at once all possible troops to support centre. It 's much in danger."

Cleburne took Cummings and Maney and with them set face to Missionary Ridge. A little way through the darkening wood and a gasping aide met him — "From General Hardee, sir! They've pierced our centre. They 're on the Ridge - they 've overflowed Missionary Ridge. We're all cut to pieces there — demoralized. — General Hardee says, form a line so as to meet attack. Do the best you can for the safety of the right wing —"

Missionary Ridge rose two hundred feet. It rose steeply, with a narrow plateau a-top. It was seamed with gullies, shaggy with woods. In places, however, the wood had been cleared, leaving the stumps of trees, gaunt, with sere, slippery grass between. At the foot of the Ridge were grey works, and now, within the last twenty-four hours, the grey had built other works along the crest. For lack of entrenching-tools and of time, they were slight enough — a shallow ditch, a slight breastwork, dark against a pallid sky. Here, at the top of Missionary, and there at the foot, were gathered the Confederate centre, together with the troops driven yesterday from Lookout. Missionary Ridge was like a crag, rising from a blue, determined sea.

Officers looked at the lines. "What do you think of it?"


"Even here at the top we don't command all approaches." "No. Those ravines are natural covered ways. They can come dose and our guns never harm them."

"Do you understand this order ?"

"No. I don't —"

"`Brigades to divide. One half to defend the foot of Missionary, one half to remain on crest. If the enemy attacks in force, fire once' — that is, the force at the foot fire once — `and retire to the works above —' H'mmm!"

This day was not the humid, languid, foggy day of yesterday. It was cool and still, but the sun was out. The Confederate centre, high on Missionary, saw to-day its foe.

The foe was massing, massing, on level and rolling ground below. In the amber air it could be plainly seen. It was in two vast lines of battle, with large reserves in the background, and hovering skirmishers before. The grey, watching, estimated its front, from wing to wing, as two and a half miles. Being formed, it advanced a mile and stood. Now it could be seen with extreme plainness, a blue sea just below. It had, as always, many bands and much music. These made the air throb. At intervals, like blossoms in a giant's garden, swayed the flags. The crest of Missionary watched.

"They're the boys for an imposing advance!"

"How many d' ye suppose they've got ?"

"Don't know. Don't know about Ulysses. Xerxes had a million." "Hope they're all there. Hope they are n't, trying any flank and rear foolishness."

"Hope not, but I would n't swear to it! I've got a distrust of Grant — though it may not be well founded, as the storekeeper said when the clerk and the till were found on the same train."

" Wish there was water up here on Sinai ! My mouth 's awful dry."

A man spat. "It's curious how many this morning I've heard say their mouth was awful dry and they felt a little dizzy —"

"It's the altitude."

"Six hundred feet ? No. It's something else. I don't know just what it is —"

Voices died. There fell a quiet as before a thunderstorm, an oppressive quiet. Missionary Ridge, its brows faintly drawn and raised, looked forth upon the sea. The sea stood broodingly quiet, without music now, the coloured blossoms still upon their stems. It held and held, the quietude.

Far off a dozen cannon boomed — Sherman's sullen last attack upon Cleburne. The grey ridge, the blue sea, bent heads to one side, listening. The far-off iron voices ceased to speak. Silence fell again. Up on Missionary a lieutenant drew his hand across his forehead. When it fell again to the sword hilt the palm was wet with sweat, the back was wet. The lieutenant was conscious of a slight nausea. There was a drumming, too, in his ears. He took himself to task. "This will never do," he said; "this will never do —" Suddenly he thought, "The men are looking at me" — and stood up very straight, smiling stiffly.

Off on the horizon three cannon spoke, one after the other, with the effect of a signal. The sound died into silence — there followed a moment of held breath — the storm broke.

All the great blue guns — and they were many — opened upon the grey centre. There burst a howling, a shrieking, a whistling of artillery. The sky grew suddenly dark. From-Missionary the grey answered, but it was a far lesser storm that they could launch. So much the lesser storm it was that it may be said that Missionary early saw its fate, towering, resistless, close. The sea lifted itself, moving forward like a spring tide while the cannon shook the firmament. It moved so close that the face of it was seen, it moved so close that the eyes of it were seen. It came like the tide that drags under the rocks.

Then was shown the fatalness of that order. All the grey troops at the foot of Missionary fired with precision, one point-blank volley in the face of the sea. If they advance in force, fire once and fall back — If they advance in force, fire once and fall back.

Only officers, and not all the officers, knew that the order was of hours' standing. As for the men, they only saw that after one volley they were in retreat. The lines above only saw that after one volley the lines below were in retreat. Over Missionary ran something like the creeping of flesh at midnight when the nightmare is felt in the room. The grey troops of the lower line began to climb. Before them rose the scarped earth, boulder-strewn, seamed and scarred, here with standing wood, here with crops of tree-stumps like dark mushrooms. Behind them was the dark blue shouting sea, and all the air was mere battle-smoke and thunder. The artillery echoed frightfully. It was as though the mountains of the region were con-voluted walls of a vast shell. The vibrations were flung from one wall to another; they never passed out of that wildly disturbed, hollow chamber. So loud were the cracks of sound, so steady the humming, that orders, right or wrong, that encouraging shouts of officers, were not well heard. In the tormenting roar, with the knowledge of the lost left, in ignorance of Cleburne's dogged stand on the right, with a conception, like a darting spark in the brain, of the isolation of Missionary, of fewness of numbers, of a lack here of leadership, with a feeling of impotence, with a feeling of dread, the grey lower lines began to climb Missionary to the upper lines. At first they went steadily, in fair order. . . . The surges of sound and light filled the universe. A sudden message rocked through every brain. They 're coming after us, over the breastworks! Instantaneously the waves of light passed into waves of darkness. With a shriek as of a million minies came panic Fear.

On the slopes of Missionary there was now no order. It was sauve qui peut. The blue tide overswept the breastworks and came on, and the grey fled before it.

In this war it had come to the grey, as it had come to the blue, to retreat, to retreat hastily and in. confusion, to retreat disordered. The grey, as the blue, had some acquaintance with Panic, had occasionally met her in the road. But to-day Panic meant not to stop at a bowing acquaintance. She aimed at a closer union and she attained her end. Each man there felt her bony clutch upon his throat and her arms like a Nessus shirt about his body.

Up — up — up! and the dark tree-stumps got always in the way. Men stumbled and fell; rose and went blindly on again — save those whom the black hail from the guns had cut down forever. These lay stark or writhing among the stumps. Their pale fellows went by them, gasping, fleet-footed. Up — up — up!

The troops upon the crest, white-faced, tight-lipped, at last received the lower line, staggering figures rising through the murk. Officers were here, officers were there, hoarse-voiced, beseeching. There came at the top a wraithlike order out of chaos; there was achieved a skeleton formation. But many of the men had rushed below the Ridge, stumbling down into the protecting forest, their hands to their heads. Others fell upon the earth and vomited. Many were wounded, and now, memory returning where they lay sunk together on the level ground, they began to cry out. All were as ghastly pale as bronze could turn, from all streamed the sweat. When they staggered into line, as many, Panic to the contrary, did stagger, their hands shook like leaves in storm. For minutes they could not duly handle their pieces. To the line a-top of Missionary, the line looking down upon the mounting tide, they were as an infectious disease. It was horrible to see Terror and the effect of Terror; it was horrible to feel finger-tips brushing the throat.

In the mean time the tide mounted. It had no orders to mount.

It was expected, when the lower line was taken, that it would wait for some next indicated move. But always the higher grey line was raining fire upon it, the grey batteries were spouting death. It became manifest that the road of safety was up Missionary. On its top grew the nettle Danger from which only might be plucked the flower Safety. The blue kept on because that was the best thing and only thing to do. Moreover, they soon found that the gullies and miniature ridges of Missionary afforded protection. The whole vast wave divided into six parties of attack, and so came up the face of Missionary.

"Who," asked Grant from the eminence where he stood, — "who ordered those men up the hill ?"

He spoke curtly, anger in his voice. " Some one will suffer for it," he said, "if it turns out badly."

But, for the blue, it did not turn out badly.

When the thunder and shouting was all over, when the short desperate mêlée was ended, when the guns were silenced and taken, when the blue wave had triumphed on the height of Missionary, and the grey had fallen backward and down, when the pursuit was checked, when the broken grey army rested in the November forest, when the day closed sombrely with one red gleam in the west, three soldiers, having scraped together dead leaves and twigs and lit a. fire, nodded at one another across the blaze.

"Did n't I tell you," said one, "that that thar moon was the Confederacy and that that thar thing stealing across it was the End?"

"And did n't I tell you," said the second, "that thar don't nothing end ? Ef a thing has been, it Is."

"Well, I reckon you'll allow," spoke the third, "that we've had an awful defeat this day ?"

"A lot of wise men," said the second, "have lived on this here earth, but the man that's wise enough to tell what's defeat and what is n't has n't yet appeared. However, I'll allow that it looks like defeat."

"Would n't you call it defeat if every army of us surrendered, and they took down the Stars and Bars from over the Capitol at Richmond ?"

"Well, that depends," said the second. "Got any tobacco ?"

That same night Bragg crossed the Chickamauga, burning the bridges behind him. The Army of Tennessee fell back to Ringgold, then to Dalton. While at this place, Bragg, at his own request, was relieved from command. The Army of Tennessee came into the hands of Joseph E. Johnston.

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