Lookout Mountain and the Battle that Shaped Chattanooga

A view of Moccasin Bend from Lookout Mountain.
A view of Moccasin Bend from Lookout Mountain. Rodger Ling
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The cornerstone of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Lookout Mountain is one of Chattanooga's most distinctive features. The northeast face of Lookout, visible from downtown, seems to embody the mood of the city as it changes daily from blazing bright with autumn colors to being shrouded in gloomy fog. Regardless of the weather, Lookout Mountain is always there standing tall, a constant reminder of the history that is a defining part of Chattanooga today.

The view from Craven’s House, one site of the Battle of Lookout Mountain. You can see Moccasin Bend in the background.
The view from Craven’s House, one site of the Battle of Lookout Mountain. You can see Moccasin Bend in the background. Hailey Moore

While Moccasin Bend (also part of the park), the easily recognizable horseshoe-shaped curve in the Tennessee River at the base of Lookout, has been inhabited for the last 12,000 years, our story today starts a little more than 152 years ago during the height of the Civil War. Much of the most decisive fighting for Chattanooga took place this week one and a half centuries ago.

Chattanooga was then a lynchpin of the Confederacy, known as the “Gateway to the Deep South,” and the fighting that took place to gain control of the city was fierce. Throughout the spring and summer of 1863, Union General William Rosecrans and Confederate General Braxton Bragg played tug of war for territory and control of Chattanooga and the all-important supply route offered by the Tennessee River.

By mid-September, things looked bleak for the Union army as Bragg mustered additional manpower. On September 19, 1863, Bragg established his troops on the west bank of Chickamauga Creek and was successful in finding a weak point in the Union lines, causing them to break ranks and scatter. Under the new command of General George H. Thomas, the Union soldiers regrouped and formed a new battle line on Snodgrass Hill, but they barely held their own against unflailing assaults. The following night, Thomas sought refuge by pulling his troops into the heart of Chattanooga. The Confederates countered by blocking all Union supplies from entering by water or rail line.

In dire need of reinforcements, the Union army was placed in the command of Ulysses S. Grant in early October, aided by generals Joseph Hooker and William T. Sherman. Through October and November, the federal army steadily pushed back against the Confederacy, first by establishing a pivotal supply route—“the Cracker Line,” running north from Bridgeport, Alabama—and ending with a deftly orchestrated three-day siege on Bragg’s troops.

More than 1,400 monuments throughout the park help tell the story of the Battle of Chattanooga.
More than 1,400 monuments throughout the park help tell the story of the Battle of Chattanooga. Hailey Moore

Starting November 23, Thomas led an attack on Orchard Knob that herded the Confederate troops westward. The next day, in perhaps the most famous feat of the campaign, Hooker’s men scaled the rugged slopes of Lookout Mountain under the cover of thick fog, forcing the Confederate troops from their secure position.

On November 25, the three generals—Hooker, Thomas and Sherman—orchestrated a final attack on the Confederates stationed at Missionary Ridge, which determined the control of Chattanooga by forcing the Confederates to retreat into Georgia. Today the three-day assault is known as the Battle of Chattanooga or the “Battle Above the Clouds.”

In 1895, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was officially dedicated in memory of the battles that took place in Chattanooga during the Civil War, becoming the first National Military Park. A few decades later, the park was turned over to the National Park Service, which expanded its territory to cover four main areas: Chickamauga Battlefield; Missionary Ridge; Lookout Mountain Battlefield and Point Park; and Moccasin Bend.

The park contains more than 1,400 monuments, some of which are adorned with an acorn, a symbol commemorating the way Thomas’ troops “stood like an oak tree” during the battle on Snodgrass. Much of the parkland is strictly preserved by the park service, though miles of trail allow users to enjoy the beautiful geography. Running the steep trails on Lookout is challenging enough, but the next time you’re there imagine the paths the Union soldiers took up the unmarked hillside.

Today, the park service teams with with many local organizations to offer events year round, like the upcoming Holiday Open House at Craven’s House, and others to ensure that we keep the defining stories of our city alive.

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