General Ulysses S. Grant's plan for lifting the siege of Chattanooga called for the Union Army of the Tennessee under General William T. Sherman to cross the Tennessee River and strike the Confederate Army's flank on the northern end of Missionary Ridge. The crossing plans involved massing a large number of pontoon boats at a point four hundred yards from the convergence of North Chickamauga Creek and the Tennessee River. Union troops rowing downriver would secure a landing on the southern bank of the Tennessee just below the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek. The Union army engineers would throw a 1,200 foot-long bridge across the Tennessee to facilitate the crossing of the rest of Sherman's men.
Around midnight on November 23, 1863, Union troops boarded the pontoon boats moored in North Chickamauga Creek. After entering the Tennessee River, part of the flotilla moved silently downstream and landed just north of the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek, the other pontoons landing south of the creek. The Federals quickly rounded up surprised Confederate pickets who had failed to raise the alarm. Within a short time, the Union troops constructed a stretch of substantial earthworks around their position.
Throughout the predawn hours of November 24, oarsmen hastily plied their boats back and forth across the Tennessee River. At the same time, engineers began work on the pontoon bridge that would span the river. The completion of this bridge around noon on November 24, along with the arrival at the crossing site of the side-wheeler Dunbar, greatly facilitated the passage of Sherman's troops, horses, and cannon. This uncontested crossing of the Tennessee River put the Union troops in a highly advantageous position on November 24, near the right flank of Bragg's army.
The bridge's southern terminus was in the vicinity of the large grain silos. A short distance east of the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek was the location of another Union pontoon bridge.