During this week 150 years ago, all eyes were on Chattanooga, Tenn., where the Union Army of the Cumberland had been under siege for the 5 1/2 weeks since the end of the Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 20, 1863.
Soon after that date, on orders from President Lincoln via Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Gen. "Fighting Joe" Hooker was detached from the Army of the Potomac in the Eastern Theater and dispatched with the XI and XII Corps to help relieve the besieged city.
However, Bragg's Confederate forces formed a wedge that separated Hooker from the city and any direct contact with the besieged Army of the Cumberland.
On Oct. 17, 1863, General U.S. Grant met with Secretary of War Stanton on a train bound for Louisville, Ky., from Indianapolis. During the meeting, Grant was appointed commander of the Military Department of the Mississippi, giving him essentially control of all forces in the Western Theater.
One of his first acts was to relieve General William Rosecrans, a Buckeye, of his command of the Army of the Cumberland and reassign General George C. Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, to the job. He had telegraphed Thomas that he must hold Chattanooga at all hazards, informing him (Thomas) at the same time he would be at the front as soon as possible.
Thomas promptly replied: "We will hold the town till we starve."
Grant's first objective certainly was to re-establish a supply line to the starving army.
But Thomas was already ahead of him. He knew that getting food to his hungry troops was of necessity the primary priority. He had already called on this chief engineer, Brig. General W. F. "Baldy" Smith to confer with him and devise a rescue plan, which he did, and a daring one at that.
It would be undertaken at night. A force under Hooker would stealthily approach a place called Brown's Ferry from the west while a force from within Chattanooga to the east would converge on the same place by floating silently down the Tennessee River on pontoons boats under cover of darkness.
The combined forces would wrest control of Brown's Ferry and then bring in troops to establish a "a secure bridgehead" to hold the crossing. They would also take out all batteries on the heights of Raccoon Mountain that could rain shells on Brown's Ferry.
When Grant arrived on Oct. 25, Thomas and Smith reviewed the plan with their new boss. Grant quickly adopted the plan and set it in motion early the following day. It unfolded with remarkable success on the 27th. Grant's so-called "Cracker Line" was opened. Supplies would soon start to flow.
For all practical purposes, the siege of Chattanooga was broken.
Certainly, Bragg was not happy with this turn of events. He ordered Longstreet to drive away the new Union force. The ensuing battle would become known as the Battle of Wauhatchie and was fought on Oct. 28 and 29, 1863.
During his advance in the Battle of Brown's Ferry, Hooker had left a force of 1,500 under command of Gen. John W. Geary at Wauhatchie Station, a stop on the Nashville and Chattanooga RR, to protect the line of communications to the southwest as well as the road west to Kelley's Ferry.
Longstreet determined to crush Geary and ordered General Micah Jenkins to mount a night attack on Geary's troops. Longstreet also deployed other forces to block any attempt by Hooker to re-enforce Geary.
At the end of night, however, Geary held and his assailant, General Bratton, was ordered to withdraw. In spite of Bragg's hopes the Union supply line remained operable and viable. The victory paved the way for the important Battles of Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge to follow in late November.
Compiled by members of the CW150 Committee of Warren's Sutliff Museum.