The day would belong to Thomas's men, who felt they had something to prove to the other Union armies that had been sent to their rescue. Due to some confusion of orders, plus some changes made by mid-ranking officers, the men of the Army of the Cumberland quickly forced the Confederate defenders from their rifle pits, but sent them scrambling up the ridge.
Thomas's men did not stop at the bottom of the slope as Grant had ordered but kept going as a reckless direct frontal assault. Waiting at the bottom of the hill did not make sense once the Union forces turned the Rebels out of their first line of trenches. Staying there would have left them in the open and vulnerable to rifle fire higher up the ridge. So, they proceeded up the hill, by the platoon, the company, the regiment, and the brigade.
Before the Union assault by the Army of the Cumberland up Missionary Ridge was over, 60 regimental flags had advanced up the hill. In their face, a startled enemy melted away. Evening fell and stopped the Union pursuit. Almost all of Bragg's men, except for Cleburne's division, which put up a hard rear-guard defense, did not stop to regroup until they had put 30 miles (50 km) between themselves and the Yankees at Chattanooga.
The ridge that many on both sides of the fight had thought was impregnable—unable to be captured—had proven to be less so. Historian James McPherson recalls Grant's words after the assault: "Well, it was impregnable." The Federals took 4,000 Confederates prisoner that day. As for Bragg, he did not accept defeat for himself, choosing instead to blame his men for his loss. The Battle of Chattanooga proved to be one of the most dramatic victories of the entire war. The casualty record included 5,824 on the Union side and 6,667, including those captured, for the Confederates. Bragg would lose his command after the fight. It was Bragg who may have been the one responsible for his army's loss, considering his continued presence caused such low spirits among his men. This was true even after President Davis's visit to Tennessee. Bragg stated as much in a letter he wrote to Davis, offering to resign, as noted by historian James McDonough: "I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me."
Chattanooga signaled a turn of events for the Rebels. A clerk in the Confederate War Department, John B. Jones, was nearly hopeless after Bragg's loss along the banks of the Tennessee River. In his diary, Jones wrote words recalled by historian McPherson: "Unless something is done . . . we are irretrievably gone." The South's loss at Chattanooga was only heightened when Union forces pushed back an attack by Longstreet at Knoxville later that same month. Back in Virginia, Lee had failed in a small-framed campaign to turn the enemy's right flank and place his army between Meade's Army of the Potomac and Washington, D.C. Meade also failed to turn Lee's right flank along the Rapi-dan. Still, the South's casualties were twice that of the Federals, resulting in the loss of 4,000 men of the South, men whom Lee and the Confederacy could not afford to do without. Southerners had been filled with hope when Bragg had bottled Rosecrans inside Chattanooga early in the fall. But, as armies on both sides slipped into winter quarters, the future for the Confederacy began to look dire, indeed.
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