Breaking the Siege
After the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans retreated to Federal-occupied Chattanooga, a strategically vital rail center, where Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg laid siege from Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant took command in October and began his efforts to break the siege. Bragg detached forces under Gen. James Longstreet to attack Knoxville as a diversion. After Gen. William T. Sherman reinforced Grant in November, the Federals attacked the heights and Bragg retreated. The Union army held the city for the rest of the war.
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During the siege of Chattanooga, Confederate forces controlled the two most reliable supply routes available to the Union garrison there. Only a rickety road across Walden's Ridge was accessible to Federal wagon trains carrying food, clothing, and ammunition. Late in October, to improve the flow of supplies, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered troops stationed in Bridgeport, Alabama, to march north and seize the valley west of Lookout Mountain. At the same time, he ordered forces from Chattanooga to use pontoon boats to float around Moccasin Bend and capture Brown's Ferry downstream to your left. Then, army engineers would build a pontoon bridge for fresh troops and adequate supplies to be carried into the city.
In the early morning of October 27, 1,150 soldiers under General William B. Hazen boarded pontoons near where you now stand and set out for Brown's Ferry. One soldier remembered: "The night was clear. A bright moon hung in the west and we could see the rebel pickets standing on their bank of the river. They could not see us. The vapor that rises from a river on clear autumn nights effectually hid us from their sight. When we rounded Moccasin Point the current threw the boats toward them, but by quietly rowing all regained the north bank without an alarm." A few minutes later, they landed on the south bank, surprising the Confederate guards at Brown's Ferry. By sunrise, they had secured the area and began laying the pontoon bridge. Soon, wagons rolled to Chattanooga by the safer route called the Cracker Line (for the wagonloads of hardtack) and eased the supply crises in Chattanooga.
The Tennessee River was a strategic transportation artery for both North and South. Notable military points exist between Downtown Chattanooga and historic Pot Point. Naturalists highlight other strategic locations for passengers aboard the Tennessee Aquarium River Gorge Explorer.