In October 1863, the South tried to finish off the Union's Army of the Cumberland. Bragg's forces formed a heavily armed circle around the city of Chattanooga. This line of rebel troops made it impossible for the North to deliver supplies to Rose-crans's soldiers, and prevented the Union Army from making an escape. The Confederates hoped to starve the Union troops into surrendering, just
as Grant had done to them during the siege at Vicksburg.
The situation at Chattanooga deeply alarmed the Lincoln administration. Lincoln viewed Rosecrans's behavior as "confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head." The president's military advisors warned him that the siege of Chattanooga might ruin the Army of the Cumberland. As the Confederate stranglehold over the city tightened, Federal troops under the command of Joseph Hooker and William T. Sherman (1820-1891) were ordered to travel to the area to give assistance. In mid-October, Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant to take control of all Union troops in the entire West.
As soon as Grant received his promotion, he replaced Rosecrans with Thomas as commander of the Army of the Cumberland. He then took action to deliver supplies to the Union troops trapped in Chattanooga. By the end of October, a series of maneuvers enabled the North to open a supply route into the city, and morale among the troops in the Army of the Cumberland rose dramatically.
During the first few weeks of November, the situation at Chattanooga continued to sour for the South. Bragg's relationships with his officers and troops worsened to the point that Jefferson Davis actively considered replacing him. In addition, more than twelve thousand Confederate troops were sent to Knoxville, Tennessee, as part of a failed attempt to pry the city loose from Union control. This departure of troops reduced Bragg's army to less than fifty thousand men. In the meantime, the swift arrival of Sherman's and Hooker's Union divisions pushed the Federal troop strength to more than fifty-six thousand.
On November 24, Grant ordered an attack on Bragg's army, which was concentrated along Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga. Union troops first attacked Lookout Mountain, taking control of the position with surprising ease. The following day, Grant moved to take Missionary Ridge, the rebels' lone remaining stronghold. Thomas's Army of the Cumberland led the attack. Forced to endure weeks of teasing from Sherman's and Hooker's troops because of their defeat at Chickamau-ga, Thomas's troops entered the field of battle in an angry mood. After seizing a row of Confederate rifle pits, they charged up the mountain slope to attack the rebel position at the top of Missionary Ridge. Grant watched this development with alarm, for no one had ordered such a charge. But the brave assault was successful. As the Army of the Cumberland drove into the Confederate lines, the rebels broke into a complete retreat.
The Union victory at Chattanooga was a very important one. The Confederate withdrawal into Georgia served as a strong signal that Federal control of the West could not be broken by the rebels, and it reassured Northern public opinion. In addition, the ragged Confederate retreat convinced Davis that Bragg needed to be removed from his command. Davis quickly replaced him with General Joseph E. Johnston, even though the Confederate president strongly disliked Johnston. Finally, the campaign once again displayed the military talents and leadership of Ulysses S. Grant. Taking note of Grant's many triumphs of the previous few years, Lincoln named him general-in-chief over all Union troops a few months later.
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