The Miracle On Missionary Ridge

On the opposite side of the river was the mouth of a valley that cut west across Raccoon Mountain, and after four or five miles this valley touched the river again at Kelley's Ferry—which could easily be reached by road or by steamboat from Bridgeport. The opportunity, as Smith pointed out, was simply this: if the Federals unexpectedly put a pontoon bridge across the river at Brown's Ferry and seized the road through the valley across Raccoon Mountain, they would have a direct route to Chattanooga from Bridgeport and the blockade would be ended.
To do this, of course, it would be necessary to drive the Confederates away from Raccoon Mountain, but this might be easy because Bragg's army held this area weakly. Bragg's left was commanded by James Longstreet, who had posted most of his army corps on the eastern and northern slopes of Lookout Mountain, detailing only one brigade to hold the valley of Lookout Creek and the northern part of Raccoon Mountain. At the break in the hills just opposite Brown's Ferry there appeared to be no more than a company of infantry.
The Confederates here, in short, could be had, and Baldy Smith knew how to take them. He outlined his plan: stealthily, and by dead of night, float a brigade of troops in pontoon boats down the river from Chattanooga, gambling everything on the belief that they could slip around Moccasin Bend before the Confederates caught on, and have these men go ashore opposite Brown's Ferry and seize the eastern end of the valley that cut across the mountain to Kelley's Ferry. Meanwhile, march another brigade across Moccasin Point by the road the generals themselves had just used, and while the brigade that had floated downstream was making the Raccoon Mountain beachhead secure, let this brigade, using the flatboats that had brought the first brigade downstream, build a pontoon bridge at Brown's Ferry, and as soon as it was done go over the river and lend a hand with the job of driving all hostile parties away from the Kelley's Ferry road. All of this, said Smith, could be started in darkness and completed by a short time after daylight.
Over in the Bridgeport area there was General Joe Hooker, down from the Army of the Potomac, who had two army corps that were not now being used. Let him be ordered to march toward. Chattanooga along the line of the railroad and its accompanying highway. This would bring him out at a place called Wauhatchie, on the eastern slope of Raccoon Mountain approximately four miles south of Brown's Ferry. Once he did this the Confederates on Lookout Mountain could not interfere with the traffic between Bridgeport and Brown's Ferry without fighting against odds under most unfavorable conditions.
Thus General Smith's plan: simple, brilliant, promising a quick solution for the army's worst single problem. General Thomas had already approved it, and preliminary activities were even now under way; all that these generals wanted was final approval from General Grant—that, and the assurance that the project had top priority and would get overriding directives in case of need. The approval and the assurance were quickly given, and Thomas and Smith hurried off to get the operation into high gear.
While the plan to break the siege received its finishing touches, Grant was dealing with a new crisis. A report from General in Chief Henry W. Halleck in Washington warned him that a corps from Lee's army in Virginia was moving down into East Tennessee, posing a threat to both the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga and the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Ambrose Burnside, in the Knoxville area. It turned out later that the report was false, but Grant had to take it at face value and consider the damage a mobile force of 25,000 Confederates might accomplish in this part of the country. The only force available to him to counter this threat was Sherman's, toiling slowly eastward from Memphis, repairing the Memphis & Charleston Railroad as it came. Grant ordered Sherman to forget railroad building and advance at full speed; Burnside was alerted to the danger. Grant was not to be distracted from the main issue, however: driving Bragg away from Chattanooga and opening the heart of the south- land to a Federal invasion. And to that goal the Brown's Ferry plan was vital.
This operation went off like clockwork in the early hours of October 27. The water-borne brigade, under Brigadier General William B. Hazen, floated down the Tennessee, slipped undetected past the Confederate pickets in the darkness, and seized a bridgehead at the ferry; reinforced by a second brigade that crossed the river on the swiftly constructed pontoon bridge, the Federals cleared the road across Raccoon Mountain to Kelley's Ferry. The next day Joe Hooker came up from Bridgeport in force to clinch the gains.
"General Thomas' plan for securing the river and south side road hence to Bridgeport has proven eminently successful," Grant telegraphed Halleck on the evening of October 28. "The question of supplies may now be regarded as settled. If the Rebels give us one week more time I think all danger of losing territory now held by us will have passed away, and preparations may commence for offensive operations."