Confederate Veteran Lookout Mountain
 
 
The following article, written by retired Brigadier-General John Creed Moore, is his account of the actions of his brigade during the fight for Lookout Mountain, called by the Confederates "The Battle Above The Clouds" during the bitter cold of November 1863. (Further down on this page may be found Moore's after-action report from the Official Record.)

Confederate Veteran Magazine, Complied Vol. VI (1898), pp 426-429

BATTLE OF LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN
Gen. John C. Moore, Osage, Tex.:


The article in the VETERAN for January, 1898, concerning the battle on Lookout Mountain contains errors. The writer doubtless believes he has stated only facts, but he has either forgotten important features or been misinformed. I have long hoped for a correct record of that battle and one that would do justice to those actually engaged in that miserable and blindly conducted affair on the Confederate side, but it seems that no official has ever tackled that delicate subject. I should have remained silent had not the writer of your article totally ignored the presence of my brigade and attributed the meager merit gained to others, and even named favorably Brown’s Brigade, which was not present. What I may state is principally based upon memory, as I have no copy of my brigade report at hand.

At the surrender of Vicksburg my brigade, known as Moore’s, was composed of the Second Texas, Thirty-Fifth Mississippi, Thirty-Seventh, Fortieth, and Forty-Second Alabama Regiments of Infantry. The Second Texas, on leaving Vicksburg, returned immediately to Texas, but the other regiments marched to Demopolis, Ala., were there disbanded, and ordered to reassemble at that point on notification of their exchange. The exchange was effected about the 1st of October following. The three Alabama regiments reassembled promptly, and the command was still known as Moore’s Brigade, the Thirty-Fifth Mississippi having been transferred to another brigade. All the troops reorganized at Demopolis were placed under command of Gen. Hardee. My brigade was supplied with a lot of arms and accouterments that had been condemned as unfit for service and piled up in an outhouse near the railroad depot. I was assured that this was merely a temporary supply, that it would answer for drill and guard duty, and that we would be supplied with serviceable guns before being ordered to the field. These arms were of many different calibers. Most of them, however, had the essential parts - lock, stock, and barrel - but were in bad order.

About the 1st of November I received orders to report to Gen. Bragg, in the vicinity of Chattanooga. On arrival there I reported the almost helpless state of my command on account of these worthless arms, and was assured the matter would be attended to at once; but it was not done, and on the following day I received orders to proceed with my command to the eastern slope of Lookout Mountain and relieve the brigade on duty at that point. We were without tents, having been ordered to leave these in our first encampment, near the foot of the mountain. Many of the men were but scantily supplied with blankets, as well as provisions, which consisted principally of rice and beans. During the three weeks we occupied this position the men were frequently exposed to a cold north wind, the ground being sometimes covered with snow. When we secured ammunition we found the cartridges either too large or too small for a number of the guns. When too small they could at least be inserted in the barrel and held in place by ramming leaves on top as wadding; but when a snugly fitting cartage was inserted into a gun with a worthless lock spring the soldier frequently discovered it had become permanently lodged in the barrel, and some of those guns may remain loaded to this day.

This position was a greatly exposed and badly protected key to Gen. Bragg’s whole line of operation. This neglect of cautionary measures can only be satisfactorily accounted for on the supposition that the commanding general never believed the Federals would make this a serious point of attack, although it was the weakest and most dangerously exposed point in his whole line of investment. That the enemy were fully aware of both the weakness and importance of the position there is not a possible doubt, because the whole line of supposed defense was exposed to their full view and within easy range of their numerous field batteries. These remarks may seem as “I told you so” after an event has occurred, but I repeatedly expressed that opinion days before the enemy assaulted and easily carried our lines. I made complaints to the corps commander, to Gen. Bragg’s headquarters, detailing the condition of our arms, want of suitable ammunition, and protesting against the policy of a command thus armed being assigned to such an important and poorly protected position. All my efforts resulted only in an unfulfilled promise that the matter would be immediately attended to, and the fatal 24th of November found us in that pitiable condition.

For a better understanding of the topography of Lookout Mountain and vicinity, a brief outline is given. Lookout Mountain is an elongated ridge extending many miles to the west of this point, which terminates abruptly at the Tennessee River. From just above this point to one below Chattanooga the river curves something like the letter S, half inverted thus {the letter “S” laid on it’s side, as if fallen to its own left is illustrated in the text -- editor}, making the famous Moccasin Point. A Federal battery on a high point on the neck of land was in the first bend and the city of Chattanooga in the second. The crest of the mountain is several hundred feet above the surface of the river and the surrounding valleys. At Point Lookout we had a field battery which seemed designed more for moral than physical effect, since it was never known to do any practical execution against the enemy, although it occasionally produced a “Moral effect” at brigade headquarters, located just below on the mountain slope, by premature explosion of shells and scattering the fragments around. There is a valley on each side of the mountain, that on the south side being an extension of the basin in which Chattanooga is situated and through which Chattanooga Creek empties into the river. From a point to the west of this a wagon road to the top of the mountain had been previously constructed for reaching the summer resort. From a point on this road about midway between the base and mountain crest, was another road, but little used, on a kind of bench formation extended along the eastern and the northern faces of the mountain. On this bench and just beneath a battery at Point Lookout was a residence known as the Craven house, and, being favorably situated for observation, was made brigade headquarters, though within plain view and easy range of the Federal battery at Moccasin Point. Federal shot and shell had done much damage to this house, but we decided to trust to luck and take our chances, as it afforded much protection against the snow and cold winds that swept down the river from the north; in fact, this consideration answered as a very effective spur to our apparently reckless display of courage and disregard for Yankee shells. But the commander of Moccasin Point battery treated us with what we chose to regard as high consideration, as he left us in undisturbed possession until the day of assault. Division headquarters were located at the intersection of the two roads previously mentioned. My brigade picket line extended from the mouth of the creek to a junction with that of Walthall’s Brigade, stationed on the northern slope of the mountain. Along the crest of the ridge just mentioned the Federals established a number of batteries, supported by a strong force of infantry. All these batteries could sweep the northern and part of them the eastern face of the mountain, while that on Moccasin Point had a commanding sweep of both faces of Lookout. The ascent in the immediate rear of our picket line was very steep and rugged, in fact, almost impassable, and therefore when the assault was made our whole brigade picket force of one hundred men was captured. Possibly one or two escaped. The Federals secured free communication between their forces on the ridge north of Lookout creek and those at Chattanooga by constructing two pontoon bridges across the river, one opposite the city and the other at a point above Moccasin Point.

As previously intimated, no serious effort had been made to construct defensive works for our forces on the mountain. It is true some of the timber in front of Walthall’s Brigade had been cut down and a narrow, shallow, but worthless, line of trenches (unworthily called rifle pits) extended from Walthall’s left to the Craven house, and from the extremity of a short line of stone fence at this point to the mouth of Chattanooga Creek a still more abortive pretense had been made.

What I have already said, with what follows, may seem as a very long preface to a very short chapter, but I only design to give a clear and comprehensive idea of the situation involved and the probable cause of results. My brigade camp was established on the mountain bench road, about midway between the Craven house and division headquarters on the mountain resort road.

Our division commander, Gen. Cheatham, was absent on leave on the day of the assault, and Gen. John K. Jackson, as ranking brigadier, was in command. I had not seen the division commander but once from the day we arrived until late on the night I was ordered to evacuate our position and after the movement had been accomplished. Up to the hour of assault I had never received a word of instruction as to the disposition of my command or the proposed line of defense, if any had even been determined, in case of attack. This I state as a fact without attempt to account for it. I do this also because it serves to account for much of the delayed and unconcerted movements of the two brigades that followed.

The day preceding Gen. Hooker’s assault on our lines we could see from our mountain perch great activity among the Federal forces on the open plain in front of Chattanooga, large bodies of troops apparently forming in masses, deploying in single, double, or treble lines of battle, etc. They also planted a battery on an “Indian mound” situated on what had been treated as neutral ground lying between the Confederate and Federal picket lines. While these movements were going on we noticed that everything seemed perfectly quiet among the Federal forces north of Lookout Creek. These conditions led me to believe that preparations were being made to attack Gen. Bragg’s lines on Missionary Ridge, but subsequent events proved that the whole movement was made as a feint to mislead us as to the intended point of attack, Lookout Mountain.

Up to the day of assault made upon our lines by Gen. Hooker it is proper to state that the only instructions I had received were to furnish details for picket and other duties and to hold my brigade until further orders at the point designated. The day following the evolutions of the enemy in front of Chattanooga, November 24, was very cloudy, partially obscuring the sunlight, but clear enough in the lower atmosphere to observe with field glass the conditions of the enemy. I saw that their pontoon bridges had disappeared which was evidence that the long-continued monotony of inaction would be speedily ended. As there was no evidence at Chattanooga of an intended attack on our Missionary Ridge lines, I hastened around to the northern slope of the mountain and found that the Federals were massing their forces in Lookout Valley, a half mile away. Hastening back to headquarters, I dispatched a staff officer to the division commander, asking for orders. In the meantime I formed my brigade in line ready to move. My messenger soon returned, and reported that he could find no one at division headquarters, only four or five hundred yards distant. By this time firing had commenced on the picket lines, and I sent again, with the same result. The firing soon became very heavy. Gen. Walthall and I had consulted, as neither had instructions as to disposition of forces in case of attack. It was agreed that my left should rest at the Craven house and his line extend to the mouth of Chattanooga Creek, unless otherwise instructed by the division commander when ordered into line, and Gen. Walthall’s Brigade would have charge of the line to the left and beyond the Craven house. Gen. Walthall remarked that he would hold his advance position on north slope of the mountain till forced back, and would still contest every inch of ground, and would then make connection with my left. This resolution was worth that daring and gallant officer, but, knowing his greatly exposed position and the narrow passage open for the withdrawal of his men, I greatly feared the daring effort might have a disastrous ending. The firing had become very severe, both by small arms and the Federal battery on Moccasin Point and the ridge north of Lookout Creek. At this time a division staff officer dashed up, giving orders to place my men immediately in the so-called rifle pits. My brigade moved by flank at a double-quick, under heavy fire from the Moccasin Point battery. Soon after the assault began a dense fog gathered about the mountain and continued much of the day. The Federal gunners did some remarkably good guessing, however, as to about "where we were at." Just as our rear files turned out of the bench road near the Craven house we met the remnant of Walthall’s Brigade rushing to the rear in inextricable disorder. The officers seemed to be using every effort to arrest their flight, but the men rushed past them in spite of threats and even blows. Where or when they stopped I never learned. It is just to remark here that the writer has not the remotest design to disparage the moral or physical courage of those men, but merely mentions it as an incident of this battle important in its bearing on what followed. Such incidents are too frequent in times of battle to be made a test of true courage, and all old soldiers experienced in war know that sometimes a body of men of well-tried and undoubted bravery become panic-stricken from really trifling causes, losing all presence of mind and self-control. These men had been placed in a dreadfully exposed position and assaulted by an overwhelming force, said to be a division and a brigade, and had lost over half their number, while there was open for possible escape but a single narrow passage. Under such circumstances who would not unhesitatingly decide "prudence to be the better part of valor." When the members of Walthall’s Brigade passed to the rear I had no idea that the balance had been killed or captured, but supposed them in line beyond the Craven house; but it soon became evident that such was not the case.

It was between twelve and one o’clock when we reached the trenches, and we were not a little surprised to find the enemy had preceded us at a few points; but they were not difficult to dislodge, perhaps due to the fact of having gotten a closer view of the miserable burlesque of rifle pits they did not consider their possession worthy of a serious struggle.

By order of some one, two six-pounders had been placed at the Craven House, but were without horses, and the officer in charge abandoned them without firing a shot. When in possession of this house and vicinity the Federals were in position to enfilade the left of my line and in possession of the road leading to my rear. Why they delayed so long in taking advantage of this fact I could not understand. They pressed us very hard all along the line, while we had not one fourth enough men to man it properly. On reaching our position, I sent messengers to the division commander, reporting the situation, and asking for reënforcements, but none came.

About two o’clock they turned my left flank and opened a severe enfilade fire; and, as they were also pushing past my right flank, it became evident we must either fall back or be surrounded and captured. Orders to retire were at once given, and we reported to the division commander, again asking for reënforcements. Falling back some two or three hundred yards in good order, with line of battle well preserved, we took position along the crest of a ridge extending down the mountain slope and nearly parallel to our first line. In a short time Gen. Pettus arrived with three regiments of his brigade and formed on my left, extending his line to the base of the precipitous mountain slope at this point. In a few minutes the enemy threw a heavy force against our whole line, the most determined effort being made against Gen. Pettus’ position; but that gallant officer nobly held his ground and successfully repulsed every assault made on his lines.

He applied to the division commander for reënforcements, but none could be furnished.

The enemy kept up a more or less heavy fire during the day and until late at night. Our ammunition had become nearly exhausted; some men, in fact, had not a single charge. At the time we fell back my men were ordered to lie down, sheltering themselves as well as they could behind rocks, trees, and fallen timber, and to reserve their fire until the enemy were near. We held our position until two o’clock that night, when I was ordered to withdraw my command, leaving out my line of pickets to conceal from the enemy our movements, and to follow the main force after its withdrawal. We were directed to descend to Chattanooga Valley down the mountain slope, over rocks and fallen timer. It being very dark, many a man received a stunning tumble during the descent. We crossed Chattanooga Valley, proceeded to Missionary Ridge, and were placed in line on the right of Cheatham’s Division. This march consumed the remainder of the night, and the reader can well imagine that we did not feel as frisky as a lot of schoolboys the following day, not even when the Federals decided to pay us another visit.

The official Confederate reports on the battle of Lookout Mountain give the following items: Pettus’ Brigade - effective force not given; killed, wounded, and missing, 56. Moore’s Brigade - effective force, 1,205; killed, wounded, and missing, 251. Walthall’s Brigade - effective force, 1,489; killed and wounded, 99; missing, 845; making the loss of the two last named 1,195, out of a total of 2,694.

It is but justice to the division commander, Gen. Jackson, to state that his report makes it evident that he used every reasonable effort to obtain the reënforcements asked for, but failed to do so.

When we carefully consider the leading incidents of this, in many respects remarkable, military feat on the Confederate side - a feat so unique in its conception, so bungled in its execution, and so fatal in its results - one may well exclaim: "O tempora! O mores!"*

I did not know the fact at the time, but I afterwards learned that while my brigade was struggling against an overwhelming force of perhaps eight or ten to one, and in effect begging for help, not less than a full division, under the direction of a corps commander, were perched on the crest of Lookout Mountain, enjoying a safe and comfortable view of that "November picnic." Why this force should be there at this time has always been to me worse than a Chinese puzzle. It is remarkable that the officer in command of this force, as stated by Gen. Jackson in his report, ordered that in case the enemy forced a passage around the base of the mountain the opposing Confederate force be withdrawn and join him on its top. Well, this contemplated movement certainly does strike one as a stunner; but, fortunately, Gen. Bragg heard of it in time to countermand the order before it could be executed.

In conclusion, let me say in connection with the fruitless struggle made by the Thirty-Seventh, Fortieth, and Forty-Second Alabama Regiments that I believe no truer, braver soldiers were to be found in the Confederate army, and I ask that those noble sons of Alabama shall not be forgotten while the deeds of others are often sung in loudest praise.

* Latin: Quoting Cicero lamenting the evil that befell him: “O the times. O the mores." implying the wickedness surrounding him- editor


OFFICIAL RECORDS:  Series 1, Vol 31, Part 2 (Knoxville and Lookout Mountain) Volume: XXXI
KY., SW. VA., Tennessee, MISS., N. ALA., AND N. GA.
, pp 704-705 


Numbers 228.

Report of Brigadier General John C. Moore, C. S. Army, commanding brigade.

 

HDQRS. MOORE'S BRIGADE, CHEATHAM'S DIVISION,

Near Dalton, Ga., December 3, 1863.

MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by this brigade in the engagement on Lookout Mountain on the 24th and that on Missionary Ridge the 25th ultimo:

 

The brigade was composed of the Thirty-seventh Alabama, Lieutenant-Colonel [Alexander A.] Green commanding; the Fortieth Alabama, Colonel [John H.] Higley, and the Forty-second Alabama, Lieutenant-Colonel Lanier. The result of the engagement on the mountain, as I conceive, renders it necessary for me to enter more fully into details than I would otherwise do. This position was occupied by my brigade on the right and Walthall's on the left, or beyond the Craven house, the whole force being under the command of Brig. General J. K. Jackson. My brigade had charge of the picket line from the mouth of Chattanooga Creek to the railroad crossing of Lookout Creek, and Walthall's from that point around to the left.

 

A few days previous to the attack I made a reconnaissance of the whole picket line and forwarded a report, by order of Lieutenant-General Hardee, through Brigadier-General Jackson. At this time the picket line on Lookout Creek extended up that stream about 2 miles to a good ford near an old mill. Our line thus being very long, requiring a large detail (700) from our comparatively small force, I advised in my report the shortening of the line by turning up the mountain at a point known as the Cursey house, and that the ford at the old mill be watched by scouting parties during the day and vedettes at night. A day or two after this General Walthall informed me that he had been instructed to picket along the creek only as far as the railroad bridge, extending his line from that point up the mountain. This threw our picket line very near the brigade on the left, rendering them very liable to a surprise by the enemy crossing above and coming down on the left. Whether this was the case on the day of the assault I am not sufficiently informed to state, though the result seems to indicate such to have been the case. Up to the time of the assault none of the enemy had crossed in front of my picket line, and those who escaped informed me that the first intimation they had of the presence of the enemy on the south side of the creek was their appearance in force on the side of the mountain in their rear. Consequently the greater portion of the picket force of this brigade (225) were captured.

 

About 11 o'clock on the morning of the 24th, I learned the enemy were forming their forces in line of battle in front of our pickets. I went immediately to a point beyond the Craven house from which I could see that such was the case, and reported the fact in a note to Brigadier-General Jackson, informing him also they had commenced skirmishing with our pickets. I ordered my brigade at once under arms, ready to move where ordered. General Jackson ordered me, through a staff officer, to place my brigade in the trenches, on the right of Walthall's. General Walthall's brigade not being in position in the trenches, I informed him of my order, and asked where his right would rest. I could get no definite answer, he merely stating he intended to fight first beyond the intrenchments, and then fall back if he found it necessary to do so, and desired that I leave vacant on the left space for his command. One of General Jackson's staff, being present, told me to wait until he could see the general and get further or more definite instructions; but the firing on the left in a few minutes becoming quite heavy, I thought it advisable to place my command in position without further orders. I at once moved the brigade, urging upon the commanders the importance of dispatch; but, to my utter astonishment, before we reached the trenches (a distance of 300 or 400 yards) the enemy had driven back Walthall's brigade south of the Craven house, and had even occupied a portion of the trenches of my brigade, from which we very soon drove them on our arrival. We were thus compelled to enter the intrenchments under the fire of the enemy in front and a very heavy fire from the Moccasin Point batteries within short range. As Walthall's brigade, when driven back, did not occupy the line on our left-or, at least the portion near the Craven house which we could see-the enemy got possession of that position, and also the commanding ground near the house, from which they completely enfiladed my left, which was afterward retired a little to the right, under cover of rising ground.

 

We held this position from this time until between 3 and 4 o'clock, the enemy repeatedly charging, but repulsed, 2 of their color bearers being shot down by our men in the trenches while attempting to plant their colors on the embankment. I have never before seen them fight with such daring and desperation. Though they got possession of the Craven house at an early hour, yet they did not attempt to turn the left flank until between 3 and 4 p.m.

We had now been engaged nearly three hours. We had but 30 rounds of ammunition at first, that being the capacity of the cartridge boxes issued to the brigade, and this supply was now nearly exhausted-entirely so with some of the men. I had not seen Brigadier-General Jackson during the day. He gave me no orders during the engagement. I sent a staff officer to his headquarters to inform him of our condition, but he returned and reported he could not find General Jackson, who was absent. If we have been properly supported on the left I believe we could have held the trenches, even with empty guns, but that support was not given us. The enemy gradually pressed around my left with an increasing force; I reluctantly gave the order to fall back. We retired about 300 yards without any great confusion. We here found Pettus' brigade in line of battle, the prolongation of which line we had selected for a second position. Had General Jackson informed me that this brigade was coming to our support, and had thrown it forward to the trenches on our left, I am confident there would have been no necessity for withdrawing my command from the first position, as this would have prevented our being flanked, or could have driven back the enemy from the left. Had General Jackson been on the ground and given proper orders for the disposition of his command, I feel assured the result would have been very different.

 

The second line we held until about 2 a.m., the 25th, when we were ordered to fall back south of Chattanooga Creek.

 

Our position on Missionary Ridge on the 25th was between Walthall's brigade on our right and Jackson's on the left. After the enemy broke our center, Jackson's brigade was placed perpendicular to the former line, to prevent the enemy from sweeping along the line to the right. General Cheatham ordered me to march my brigade by the flank in rear of and to the left of Jackson's, so as to cover the base of the ridge and support that brigade. While executing this order, and just as our leading files passed the left of Jackson's brigade, that brigade gave way, rushing back through the ranks of mine, which was still marching by the flank. After stopping them and restoring some order the two brigades fought as one, both officers and men, though we had at first great difficulty in holding them in line. I did not see General Jackson or any of his staff whom I recognized, except Captain Moreno, during the engagement.

 

The enemy made great efforts to drive us from the position, but failed. We determined to hold it at all hazards, believing that the safety of the right wing of the army in some measure, and particularly the artillery, depended on our holding this position, which covered one of the roads, leading to Chickamauga. We held the line until nearly dark, when I observed the right falling back, and on inquiring the cause was informed that an order had been passed down the line from Lieutenant-General Hardee to fall back.

 

As a general thing the officers and men of the brigade acted well. I observed Colonel Wilkinson, of the Eight Mississippi, and Lieutenant-Colonel Edwards, of the Forty-seventh Georgia, of Jackson's brigade, who acted with marked gallantry. Others conducted themselves well whom I did not recognize.

 

My own command acted much better then might have been expected under the circumstances, as they fought during the engagements of the two days with arms that had been condemned as unfit for service, and which were received while at Demopolis, Ala., to be used only for drill and guard duty.

 

I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. C. MOORE,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

 

37th Alabama Regiment of Volunteer Infantry CSA
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