Meanwhile the Confederates in Tennessee, weakened by reinforcing Johnston against Grant, had been obliged to retire on Chattanooga. To cover this retirement and make what diversion he could, Bragg sent John H. Morgan with twenty-five hundred cavalry to raid Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Perplexing the outnumbering Federals by his daring, "Our Jack Morgan" crossed the Ohio at Brandenburg, rode northeast through Indiana, wheeled south at Hamilton, Ohio, rode through the suburbs of Cincinnati, reached Buffington Island on the border of West Virginia, and then, hotly pursued by ever-increasing forces, made northeast toward Pennsylvania. On the twenty-sixth of July he surrendered near New Lisbon with less than four hundred men left.
The Confederate main body passed the summer vainly trying to stem the advance of the Army of the Cumberland, with which Rosecrans and Thomas skillfully maneuvered Bragg farther and farther south till they had forced him into and out of Chattanooga. In the meantime Burnside's Army of the Ohio cleared eastern Tennessee and settled down in Knoxville.
But in the middle of September Longstreet came to Bragg's rescue; and a desperate battle was fought at Chickamauga on the nineteenth and twentieth. The Confederates had seventy thousand men against fifty-six thousand Federals: odds of five to four. They were determined to win at any price; and it cost them eighteen thousand men, killed, wounded, and missing; which was two thousand more than the Federals lost. But they felt it was now or never as they turned to bay with, for once, superior numbers. As usual, too, they coveted Federal supplies. "Come on, boys, and charge!" yelled an encouraging sergeant, "they have cheese in their haversacks!" Yet the pride of the soldier stood higher than hunger. General D.H. Hill stooped to cheer a very badly wounded man. "What's your regiment?" asked Hill. "Fifth Confederate, New Orleans, and a damned good regiment it is," came the ready answer.
Rosecrans, like many another man who succeeds halfway up, failed at the top. He ordered an immediate general retreat which would have changed the hard-won Confederate victory into a Federal rout. But Thomas, with admirable judgment and iron nerve, stood fast till he had shielded all the others clear. From this time on both armies knew him as the "Rock of Chickamauga."
The unexpected defeat of Chickamauga roused Washington to immediate, and this time most sensible, action. Grant was given supreme command over the whole strategic area. Thomas superseded Rosecrans. Sherman came down with the Army of the Tennessee. And Hooker railed through from Virginia with two good veteran corps. Meanwhile the Richmond Government was more foolish than the Washington was wise; for it let Davis mismanage the strategy without any reference to Lee. Bragg also made a capital mistake by sending Longstreet off to Knoxville with more than a third of his command just before Grant's final advance. The result was that Bragg found himself with only thirty thousand men at Chattanooga when Grant closed in with sixty thousand, and that Longstreet was useless at Knoxville, which was entirely dependent on Chattanooga. Whoever won decisively at Chattanooga could have Knoxville too. Davis, as the highest authority, and Bragg, as the most responsible subordinate, ensured their own defeat.
Chattanooga was the key to the whole strategic area of the upper Tennessee; for it was the best road, rail, and river junction between the lower Mississippi and the Atlantic ports of the South. It had been held for some time by a Federal garrison which had made it fairly strong. But toward the end of October it was short of supplies; and Hooker had to fight Longstreet at Wauhatchie in the Lookout Valley before it could be revictualed. When Hooker, Thomas, and Sherman were there together under Grant in November it was of course perfectly safe; and the problem changed from defense to attack. The question was how to drive Bragg from his commanding positions on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. The woods and hills offered concealment to the attack in some places. But Lookout Mountain was a splendid observation post, twenty-two hundred feet high and crested with columns of rock. The Ridge was three miles east, the Mountain three miles south, of Cameron Hill, which stood just west of Chattanooga, commanding the bridge of boats that crossed the Tennessee.
The battle, fought with great determination on both sides, lasted three days--the twenty-third, twenty-fourth, and twenty-fifth of November. Sherman made the flank attack on Missionary Ridge from the north and Thomas the frontal attack from the west. Hooker attacked the western flank of Lookout Mountain.
Thomas did the first day's fighting, which was all preliminary work, by advancing a good mile, taking the Confederate lines on the lower slopes of the Ridge, and changing their defensive features to face the Ridge instead of Chattanooga.