Saturday, February 24, 2007
Battle Above The Clouds
Lookout Mountain rises over the Tennessee Valley like a monolith, it steep sides protruding to the sky. The mountain, more than 1200 feet above the valley floor beneath it is surrounded on three sides by a near vertical rock wall that has afforded protection to the occupants of the top for hundreds of years.
The mountain is known for a unique weather phenomenon. Sometimes, after a clear dawn, a layer of fog descends toward the valley below, stopping about halfway down the peak. This inverted fog has been written about since the first whites visited the area sometime before 1735. It was on a fateful day, November 24, 1863, that this weather anomaly set in, creating the most poetic name for any battle in the American Civil War, The Battle Above the Clouds.
At 8:30 a.m. men under Brigadier General John Geary bridged Lookout Creek near an old dam and began their work. They moved up the mountainside capturing unprepared Rebel pickets. As Lookout Mountain rises its slope becomes steeper and about 300 feet below the top the slope is near-vertical and strewn with large boulders. Not only did the Rebel commanders feel this was an impregnable fortress, so did Joe Hooker.
Once Geary's men reached about two-thirds of the way up the slope they stopped climbing and began to move in a line parallel to the top of the mountain. The Confederates were prepared for a force coming up the hill, not at them from the side. The Confederates pulled back under fire, giving ground up slowly but steadily. Brigadier General Edward Walthall, whose Mississippians were guarding the slopes, tried to coordinate a defense but failed. By noon Geary's men were approaching the front of the mountain.
A fog began to cover much of the top half of the mountain at 10:00am that morning, obscuring the view of the participants of the battle and the men in the Chattanooga Valley. It was this meteorological phenomena that gave the fighting on Lookout Mountain its nickname, "The Battle Above the Clouds." Through the fog Confederate artillery shells and canister would pass over the heads of the advancing soldiers. Occasionally the fog would lift briefly so that the Union Army in the Chattanooga Valley could see the action.
Relentlessly, Hooker's juggernaut marched on. It seemed as if nothing would prevent the Union Army from surrounding Lookout Mountain and trapping the artillery on the top. Then the Confederates got a series of unexpected breaks. Geary halted the forward advance of the Union line to regroup. While Geary was regrouping General Hooker ordered Geary to maintain his position, however, all was not stagnant on the Rebel lines.
Brigadier General Edmund Pettis moved his men into position to support Walthall and at 2:30 the Rebel line began to advance, although still greatly outnumbered. The advance was short-lived. The Battle Above the Clouds ended abruptly at 4:00pm when Stevenson received orders to withdraw from his position on Lookout Mountain and joined Bragg on Missionary Ridge.
This was the prelude for the Battle of Chattanooga which ended in a Union victory and opened Georgia up to "Sherman's March to the Sea".
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