Siege of Chattanooga "Supply Lines Severed" September 23-November 25,1863
Following the disastrous defeat in the September 19-20, 1863, Battle of Chickamauga, the demoralized but unpursued Union Army of the Cumberland retreated to Chattanooga, TN. Their commander, Gen. William S. Rosecrans, put the men to work digging defensive entrenchment's around the city and wired Washington for reinforcements. The Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Gen. Braxton Bragg, arrived at the outskirts of Chattanooga on September 23 and seized the surrounding heights- Missionary Ridge to the east, Lookout Mountain to the southwest, and Raccoon Mountain to the west- and established a line of outposts that connected all three.
From their lofty positions, the Confederates could not only direct long-range artillery fire onto the Union entrenchments but also sweep the major rail and river routes that supplied the Union army. Bragg, disappointed that Rosecrans did not evacuate Chattanooga, decided to lay siege to the city and starve the Union force into surrendering. The usual route of supply into the city was a one-hour trip by rail from Bridgeport, 27 miles to the west. With that route and the alternative river route severed, Rosecrans's only supply line was a torturous 60-mile wagon road through the Sequatchie Valley and over Walden's Ridge that could take anywhere from eight to 20 days to traverse.
In the struggle to move the supplies over the steep mountain roads, as many as 16 mules would be hitched to each wagon. A whip-bearing soldier was assigned to each mule, while more soldiers pushed the wagons from behind. The hard work and shortage of forage and rations were debilitating to man and beast, but the overworked mules suffered the most. The road from Bridgeport became littered with mule carcasses. One soldier reported that "laid lengthwise, they would easily cover the whole distance." To put more pressure on the besieged Union army, Bragg unleashed Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry into the Sequatchie Valley to capture wagon trains and destroy bridges.
Fascinating Fact: Food became so scarce in Chattanooga that the Union soldiers stole feed from the horses and picked out of the mud the crumbs of food that fell through the cracks of the rattling wagons.
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