Civil War Fortifications in Chattanooga

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - by Chuck Hamilton

Occupied by the Confederacy’s Army of the Mississippi (23 July-28 August 1862), by the Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee (4 July-9 September), and by the Union’s Army of the Cumberland (9 September 1863-May 1864), being the focus of one of the longest and bloodiest campaigns of the Civil War (21 August-28 November 1863), and serving as long-term home base for the Union’s Department of the Cumberland (9 September 1863-20 August 1866), the town of Chattanooga and its surrounding region became home to many forts, redoubts, earthworks, lunettes, rifle pits, breastworks, redans, lilts, and other fortifications.

Several of these fortifications, some temporary, some more permanent remain, but even of those long gone it’s interesting, and helpful to historians, to know where they were.

Going from west to east since that is the direction in which the campaign progressed, we find ourselves in Lookout Valley. Here the Battle of Brown’s Ferry took place on 27 October 1863 at the vital crossing of the Old Post Road at Brown’s Ferry, and the Battle of Wauhatchie took place on 28-29 October 1863.

In the former case, the fighting was between Confederate Army of Tennessee troops guarding the ferry crossing and troops from the besieged Union Army of the Cumberland who floated down river on Moccasin Bend. In the latter, the fighting was between troops of Hooker’s Corps from the Union Army of the Potomac and Army of Tennessee troops redeployed from the upper slopes of Lookout Mountain, with the action taking place over ground stretching from Wauhatchie Station to the modern I-24 freeway.

The two disasters were made possible by Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, who had his troops from the Army of Northern Virginia looking southward towards Johnson’s Crook, which upon no other basis than his own imagination he had decided would by the vector of attack.

The west landing of Brown’s Ferry remains much as it was 150 years ago, and the hills on both sides of the landing still have the rifle pits (trenches) in which the Confederates stood their guard. Some of the rifle pits remain in the area of the Wauhatchie action too.

Lookout Mountain, of course, had rifle pits and breastworks on its slopes and summit, and the battle there took place on 24 November 1863. West of the Cravens House, the Rifle Pits Trail runs past the trenches of the 29th and 30th Mississippi Infantry, the only ones remaining.

Remember what I wrote above about the troops from the besieged Union army floating ON Moccasin Bend, rather than AROUND it? That’s because Moccasin Bend refers to the path of the river around the peninsular formation known as Moccasin Point.

There were no Indian villages, towns, or mound on Moccasin Bend. There are also no Indian burials on Moccasin Bend, nor are there remains from Civil War fortifications there. There are, however, Indian burials on Moccasin Point and remains of Indian villages, towns, and mounds on Moccasin Point where their inhabitants would not have to tread water. There are also well-preserved surviving fortifications from the Union occupation. These include rifle pits, several gun emplacements, and the base of Fort Walker at the end of Stringer’s Ridge.

I should also note that the tract of land known as Moccasin Point had nothing whatsoever to do with the Cherokee Removal. The idea that it did is a very popular local myth but is still a myth all the same. However, the four detachments of Cherokee which departed for the west from Ross’ Landing (three in August 1838 and one in October 1838), as well as the Drew party (which included John Ross and travelled on a luxury riverboat owned by Joseph Vann), getting underway in December 1838), did negotiate their way downriver on Moccasin Bend around Moccasin Point.

Continuing east, our next destination is the then town and now city of Chattanooga. At the time of the war, the town limits of Chattanooga stretched from the Tennessee River in the north and west to what are now West 23rd Street and Baldwin Street in the south and east. The Union soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland took over or finished building a number of forts already finished or at least begun by the Army of Tennessee’s Confederates. There is nothing remaining form any of the structures in town or on its immediate outskirts.

The first set of forts we would have come to going west to east were the series of fortifications upon Cameron Hill. Before we get to those, though, I need to explain a few things about the geography of that particular eminence and how it was named from that time through the construction of the Golden Gateway in the 1960’s.

The part then called Cameron Hill is the crest and apex of the whole height which had it top lopped off for fill dirt during the construction of what was then I-124 thru downtown. It’s where the humongous Blue Cross/Blue Shield office complex now sits. South of what was then West 6th Street and is now West 9th Street was called Terrace Hill. A lower shelf of the eminence along the east side of Cameron-Terrace Hill was called Academy Hill and later College Hill. Just to the north of Academy Hill but somewhat separate was and still is Kirkman Hill, called Reservoir Hill immediately after the war because of the redoubt atop it being converted to that use. The hollow between Kirkman Hill and Cameron Hill was called Stillhouse Hollow, by the way, but US 27 (the former I-124) now runs through it.

Signal Hill, the Army of the Cumberland’s most important communications post, stood at the apex of Cameron Hill.

Fort Cameron, originally built by the Confederates, also sat on the crest of Cameron Hill, but about a city block south of Signal Hill.

Redoubt Coolidge occupied approximately at the current intersection of West Martin Luther King Boulevard and Boynton Avenue on Terrace Hill.

Fort Mihalotzy was nearby on Terrace Hill, at roughly the intersection of West Martin Luther King Boulevard and Gateway Avenue.

Redoubt Sheridan (also known as Fort Crutchfield) stood about where the Boynton Towers building now stands.

Fort Lytle (also known as Star Fort due to its shape) took up around four city blocks on Academy Hill in the about center of what is now College Hill Courts.

Redoubt Carpenter lay atop Kirkman Hill and later became the city reservoir.

Redoubt Putnam sat at the southeast corner of Walnut Street and East 5th Street.

Fort Sherman stretched from East 3rd Street past East 4th Street to East 5th Street between Georgia Avenue and Lindsay Street.

Lunette O’Meara stuck out from the walls of Fort Sherman at the northwest corner of East 5th Street and Lindsay Street.

Redoubt Bushnell sat in the southwest corner of East 4th Street and Lindsay Street.

Fort Jones (also known as Stone Fort because of the layer of stone upon which it was built) stood where the federal Customs House is now, across the street from city hall.

Battery Taft lay south of East Martin Luther King Boulevard between Lindsay Street and Houston Street.

Signal Point, the Army of the Cumberland’s second-most important communications platform, lay roughly in the center of the parking lot of what is now Hunter Museum.

Battery McAloon sat on the Tennessee River, near the end of Houston Street, giving its name to the Battery Place neighborhood.

Battery Erwin was divided in half and took up two positions. One was in the southeast corner of East 8th Street and Mabel Street, while the other half was in the northeast corner of East Martin Luther King Boulevard and Peeples Street.

Those were the forts, redoubts, and batteries that lay within the town limits of Chattanooga at the time of the Civil War. In addition to these, numerous earthworks, rifle pits, and breastworks provided additional defense; the strongest of these supplementary structures was the line of works between Star Fort (Ft. Lytle) and Stone Fort (Ft. Jones).

Fort Wood (also known as Fort Creighton) at the apex of what’s now called Fort Wood Hill was the most important defense beyond the town limits but within Union lines. It occupied a city block and was the venue from which the Union generals observed the fighting on both 23 November and 25 November 1863.

The Chattanooga area was host to another Fort Wood some 25 years earlier, built to house the garrison guarding the detainees at Camp Cherokee (at UTC’s Scrappy Moore Field) and at Camp Clanewaugh (at Indian Springs, underneath National Health Care of Chattanooga). That Fort Wood stood at the site of the current Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS).

Fort Palmer, which sat atop where Park Place School is now, was built after the Chattanooga Campaign to reinforce the defenses already in place.

Fort King was likewise built after the campaign was over and for the same reason, and it stood on top of Bald Knob, formerly called Brushy Knob, now the site of the National Cemetery.

Fort Negley (also known as Fort Phelps), built during the siege of Chattanooga, stood within the neighborhood of the same name bound by Main Street, East 17th Street, Mitchell Street, Read Street and Rossville Avenue.

The Chattanooga Town Hall on 6th Street served as headquarters for the Union Department of the Cumberland during the siege and for the occupation until the war was officially declared over in August 1866. After the Army of the Cumberland departed on the Atlanta Campaign in May 1864, it continued to serve as base for the Army’s Quartermaster Corps, commanded by John T. Wilder, and for that army’s First Colored Brigade, which was composed of the 14th, 16th, 18th, 42nd, and 44th USCTs (U.S. Colored Troops).

The first major action of the battles which broke the siege took place on 23 November when the Union seized the Confederate forward posts on Brushy (Bald) Knob, Indian Hill, and Orchard Knob. Brushy/Bald Knob is now the center of the oldest National Cemetery in the country and Indian Hill the largest part of the Highland Park suburb. Orchard Knob, of course, is part of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park (our country’s oldest), and two lines of its earthworks survive, one near the Illinois monument and one on the sloped area.

It took the loss of these forward posts to make Gen. Braxton Bragg, commander of the Army of Tennessee, realize that maybe it would be a good idea to dig in and prepare to defend against an attack from the besieged Army of the Cumberland. This came after he had his army along the crest of the ridge for more than two months.

While justifiably criticized for the belatedness of fortifying his army’s siege positions, Bragg has long been criticized unfairly for the position of the army’s rifle pits atop Missionary Ridge. His chief engineer, Captain John Green, was the officer in charge of placing the rifle pits and it was he who instructed that they be dug along the actual crest along the very top of the ridge rather than along the military crest just below it. But even here, trench warfare was fairly new and the later universal doctrine about the military crest for trench emplacement was not universal.

To Maj. Gen. John Breckenridge, who seemed to be suffering a manic episode during those last two days of the siege of Chattanooga, belongs the blame for the insanely short-sighted system of three lines of rifle pits (one along the top, another along the base, a third 300 yards out) which Capt. Green implemented upon the capture of the army’s three forward positions.

Had Bragg moved earlier, not only would there have been more time to reconsider plans made by Breckenridge’s temporary insanity, there likely would have been time for Brig. Gen. Arthur Manigault to make his case for placement of the rifle pits along the military, rather than the actual, military crest.

Manigault did, in fact, have his own brigade dig its rifle pits at the military crest, with the result that the charging Union troops from the Army of the Cumberland bypassed his brigade’s murderous field of fire completely. But since Brig. Gen. Zachary Deas and Col. William Tucker (commanding Anderson’s Brigade) on either side of him failed to heed his advice and found themselves overrun, Manigault had to withdraw his brigade when they were flanked on both sides to keep them from being completely encircled.

Some maps of the battle area show forts named for Gen. Braxton Bragg, Maj. Gen. Thomas Hindman (whose division was being commanded by Brig. Gen. Patton Anderson), Maj. Gen. John Breckenridge, and Maj. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner. While the headquarters of those generals were undoubtedly defended by some sort of ad hoc fortifications, none of them rose to the level that would justify calling any of them a fort or redoubt.

None of the afore-mentioned rifle pits and other earthworks making up Breckenridge’s Folly have any remains today.

Fort Cheatham, headquarters of Tennessee’s own Maj. Gen. Frank Cheatham (the Confederacy’s best division commander after Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne), once stood at the foot of Missionary Ridge in the neighborhood now called by its name bounded by the ridge, I-24, East 28th Street, and 4th Avenue. It was a well-built redoubt.

The Union’s Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman brought troops from his Army of the Tennessee clandestinely across the river the evening of 24 November 1863 after negotiating a system of trails behind high hills on the north side of the river following at secret crossing at Brown’s Ferry. His troops seized what military intelligence had told him was the north end of Missionary Ridge and immediately dug in.

Sherman then discovered to his chagrin that they had actually seized a completely detached hill, actually two almost separate hills joined by a narrow ridge. The largest and westernmost of these is known as Billy Goat Hill and sits at the north end of Chamberlain Avenue, while the other (according to Shutting’s maps of the region at the library’s local history section) to the east is called Angora Hill. Sherman’s personal HQ sat on the narrow ridge in the center.

Several well-preserved gun emplacements dug into the slopes of the two hills facing the actual north end of Missionary Ridge remain. Sherman’s rifle pits, at least some of them, also still exist, exactly where they were originally placed, along the actual (rather than military) crest, proving that at the time of the Chattanooga Campaign, that military doctrine was not yet carved in stone.

The actual north end of Missionary Ridge faced Sherman’s command across Lime Kiln Hollow, through which now runs Bonny Oaks Drive-Campbell Street. At first completely undefended, it was quickly occupied and fortified by Cleburne’s Division, who had been recalled from Tyner Station, where they were about to board a train on the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad going to Knoxville to join Longstreet’s siege of the Union Army of the Ohio there.

This almost separate elevation guarded the tunnel of the just-mentioned railroad through the ridge, and for this reason was referred to by both armies as Tunnel Hill. The real local name for it, however, was and still is Trueblood Hill. The site forms the park’s Sherman Reservation, a strange moniker for the site of one of that general’s worst defeats.

While history books usually emphasize the very late afternoon charge in which the Army of the Cumberland avenged its defeat at Mud Flats (the [West] Chickamauga), in truth the main action that day was at the northern end, where from daylight till late afternoon Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee was repeatedly repulsed by the division commanded by Cleburne. The charge of Thomas’ troops (Thomas commanded the Army of the Cumberland) was supposed to be a feint to draw pressure away from Sherman.

Some of the earthworks and rifle pits from both sides remain atop Trueblood Hill at Sherman’s Reservation, but the city’s Public Works Department (with after-the-fact acquiescence by the Park Service) has made access to this section of our nation’s first military park rather arduous for the general public and impossible for the handicapped.

Less well-known than some of the other structures is the network of twelve blockhouses that guarded the length of South Chickamauga Creek, which was still called Chickamauga River at the time (and justifiably so, since it is at least as big as the Sequatchie River). None of these, of course, remain.

On the property of Camp Jordan, however, two surviving large man-made earthen walls enclosing the south and west sides of a peninsula formed by the junction of the South and West Chickamauga Creeks most likely date to the Civil War, according to anthropologist Raymond Evans and park historian Jim Ogden. The structure could have been an anchor fort for the twelve blockhouses or earthworks constructed by Union troops who bivouacked there in the winter of 1863-64.

While there were almost certainly at least a modicum of defenses at the Western & Atlantic Railroad’s Chickamauga Station and its adjacent village (formerly across the tracks from the airport terminal), none remain. However, during the occupation of the Chattanooga region by the Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee in the summer of 1863, Cleburne’s Division was stationed in the Hickory Valley area and built several redoubts, gun emplacements, and rifle pits.

Hickory Valley runs from Harrison through Enterprise South and Tyner to East Brainerd and the South Chickamauga Creek.

Cleburne’s troops built two redoubts to guard Chickamauga Station on Milliken’s Ridge, one protecting it toward the north on the ridge’s Dupree Hill and another to the south on the ridge’s Stein Hill.

The first redoubt, overlooking the former Shepherd mansion called Altamede to the east as well, stood atop Dupree Hill where Grace Works Church now sits. This structure had been long-since destroyed by the final owner of Altamede, who had sold off the top of the hill for dirt.

The second redoubt stood atop Stein Hill in the exact location now occupied by the water tower at the end of Franklin Drive overlooking Perimeter Place Mall. In fact, the base of the redoubt still exists, supporting the water tower, surrounded by the remains of the rifle pits which provided a supplementary defense.

Cleburne’s troops also built two redoubts to guard the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad’s Tyner Station and its associated village, again, one to the south and the other to the north.

The southern redoubt at Tyner was built on Tyner Hill, at the spot now occupied by Tyner Middle School. But the structure for which the redoubt was destroyed was the original Tyner High School, built in 1906, burned in the 1950’s.

The northern redoubt at Tyner lay smack in the center of the village of Tyner, next to the house which Cleburne used as his headquarters. This redoubt, for which the Tyner Redoubt Soccer complex is named, is remarkable well-preserved. Unlike the village, which was seized under eminent domain along with my great-grandfather’s store and the village of Hawkinsville along Hickory Valley Road north of Bonny Oaks Drive which disappeared in the construction of the former Army Ammunition Plant.

Cleburne’s troops constructed a fifth redoubt at the then county seat of Harrison, along with earthworks for a battery. If these still exist, you’ll need scuba gear and a minor miracle to see them, since they are under the waters of the Chickamauga Reservoir along with the town.

Writing this piece, especially when discussing the various armies, brought to mind the Battle of Five Armies which forms the climax of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit. Count them: for the Confederacy, the Army of Tennessee and (a portion of) the Army of Northern Virginia; for the Union, the Army of the Cumberland, (a portion of) the Army of the Tennessee, and (a portion of) the Army of the Potomac.

Final note: The Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee was named for the state, while the Union’s Army of the Tennessee was named for the river.


Chuck Hamilton


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