Battles & Leaders of the Civil War
COMMENTS ON GENERAL GRANT'S "CHATTANOOGA."
ON the 3d of October, 1863, having reported to General Rosecrans at Chattanooga, I was assigned the duty of chief engineer of the Army of the Cumberland, and it devolved on me as a part of my duty, first, to lay out and construct the fortifications so as to enable a comparatively small force to hold the place, and, secondly, to look out for the communications by which the army was supplied. In the performance of that duty I was actively engaged in building boats and material for bridges, and was studying earnestly to find some way of restoring our short line of communications lost by the giving up of Lookout Mountain and Valley. I found a most excellent company of volunteers styled "Michigan Engineers and Mechanics," commanded by Captain Perrin V. Fox.
Before my arrival they had set up a saw-mill, and were engaged in making boats and flooring, etc., for military bridges. In pursuance of the paramount necessity of finding some way of shortening our distance to the railroad at Bridgeport, on the 19th of October I started to make a personal examination. of the north side of tho Tennessee River below Chattanooga. The object was to find some point on the south side, the holding of which would secure to us the river from Bridgeport through the Raccoon Mountain, and the short road in the valley from there to Chattanooga. On returning unsuccessful in my search, to within about five miles of Chattanooga, I saw before me on a bluff, washed by the river, an earth-work in which was posted a field-battery commanding a road through a break in the hills on the opposite side, where had formerly been established a ferry, known as Brown's Ferry. The place struck me as worthy of examination, and learning from the commanding officer of the battery that there was a tacit agreement that the pickets should not fire on each other, I left my horse in the battery and went down to the water's edge. There I spent an hour, studying the character of the hills, the roadway through the gorge, and marking and estimating the distances to the fires of the picket reserves of the enemy. I then rode back to headquarters, to find that during my absence General Rosecrans had been relieved from duty there and General George H. Thomas put in command of the army.
The next morning, October 20th, General Thomas asked me what length of bridge material I had not in use, and directed me to throw another bridge across the river at Chattanooga. I asked him not to give the order till he had heard my report of my examination of the day before and had looked into a plan I had to propose for opening the river to our steamboats, of which there were two then partly disabled, but which had not been repaired by me lest they should eventually serve the purpose of the enemy. After a discussion which I think was finished in two days, and by the 22d of October, he gave his approval to the plan, and I went to work at once, he giving the necessary orders for the cooperating movements from Bridgeport, which were a vital part of the operations. After that there was but one discussion between General Thomas and my self, which was as to the relative time at which Hooker's column was to move from Bridgeport. That took place after the arrival of General Grant at Chattanooga, all others having been concluded before General Grant made his appearance.
When Grant had been but about twelve hours in Chattanooga, and before he had even started on his trip to Brown's Ferry, Mr. Dana had sketched to the Secretary of War the substance of the whole movement. (1) That General Thomas had, after General Grant's arrival, to put before him the plan which he had determined upon, and that General Grant's approval was necessary, and that it was proper for him to go to Brown's Ferry at once to see the position before he gave his approval to it, cannot be gainsaid, but there is not the slightest reason for doubting that Thomas would have made the same move with the same men and with the same results, had General Grant been in Louisville, from which place he had telegraphed the order putting Thomas in command of the Army of the Cumberland. General Grant does not overstate the importance of this movement to tho army. It gave at once t.o the army food and clothing, with forage for the animals which were yet alive, and last, but not least, ammunition, of which General Grant says the Union army had " not enough for a day's fighting." From being an army in a condition in which it could not retreat, it became an army which, so soon as it was reenforced by the troops with Sherman, assumed the offensive, and under the leadership of General Grant helped to win the battle of Missionary Ridge, inflicting a mortal blow upon the army under Bragg. General Thomas was a man who observed strictly the proprieties and courtesies of military life; and had the plan "for opening the route to Bridgeport," and the orders necessary for its execution, emanated from General Grant, Thomas would hardly have noticed the subject in the following words : " To Brigadier-General W. F. Smith, chief engineer, should be accorded great praise for the ingenuity which conceived, and the ability which executed, the movement at Brown's Ferry. The preparations were ail made in secrecy , as was also the boat expedition which passed under the overhanging cliffs of Lookout, so much so that when the bridge was thrown at Brown's
(1) Telegrams of Dana to Stanton, October 23d and 24th, 10 A. M.