Since the first week of October, 1863, all troops who were not deemed essential at their current stations were sent to Chattanooga, Tenn., to join the forces of General Grant.
This was the beginning of the strategic offensive against Atlanta the following year. During the winter months the Union army would become the largest ever assembled in one location in the Western Hemisphere. From the top of Lookout Mountain one could see miles of tents, wagons, artillery and troops in their respective camps.
Since the mid-September loss at Chickamauga, Ga., the Union troops had retreated into Chattanooga to await reinforcements and supplies. However, their situation, after a few weeks, became dire and the men began to feel the effects of half-rations. General Grant, who arrived in Chattanooga on the 24th of October, saw the troops in this state for the first time and was appalled at their condition. The beef was so poor that the soldiers were in the habit of saying that they were living on "half-rations of hard bread and beef dried on the hoof." Soldiers were sifting through the dirt trying to find a kernel of corn that the animals had missed. Grant wrote in his memoirs: "It looked, indeed, as if two courses were open: the one to starve, the other to surrender or be captured. As soon as I reached Chattanooga, I started out to make a personal inspection, taking (General) Thomas with me. We crossed to the north side and reached the Tennessee at Brown's Ferry, some three miles below Lookout Mountain, unobserved by the enemy. Here we left our horses and approached the water on foot. There was a picket station of the enemy on the opposite side of the river, in full view, and we were within easy range, but they did not open fire on us. They must have seen that we were all commissioned officers but, I suppose, they already looked at the garrison at Chattanooga as their prisoners of war. That night I issued orders for opening the route to Bridgeport, a 'cracker line,' as the soldiers appropriately named it." This cracker line was nothing more than a supply route to feed the troops besieged in Chattanooga. Hooker's forces, including men from Trumbull County were directly involved in this endeavor.
On the 27th 1500 Federal troops drifted silently down the Tennessee River in pontoons to Brown's Ferry where they are assembled and Hooker's men cross into Chattanooga. This was the first time in months that the men stationed in Chattanooga were able to get fresh supplies. On the 28th Confederate General Braxton Bragg orders as assault on Hooker's men at Brown's Ferry, a rare attack in the dark. Over 400 casualties later the rebels were repulsed and the "cracker line" is never endangered again. On the 30th the Steamer "Chattanooga" arrives with 40,000 rations and feed for the animals. Chattanooga is strewn with dead horses and mules, some estimate at 3,000.
On November 4th, Bragg sent Longstreet's Corp and Wheeler's Cavalry to Knoxville to try to unseat General Burnside from that strategic position. President Jefferson Davis had two purposes for this move. First they needed the railroad for the purpose of establishing a supply route and second because General Bragg and Longstreet could not agree on any further strategies. This was a fortuitous move for Grant. As soon as General Sherman's men would arrive from the west he would immediately attach Lookout Mountain and start pushing the Confederates south.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Theater, the Union turned the table on the Confederates in Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter, the pride of Confederate resistance, refused to surrender and was bombarded with more than 600 rounds of cannon shot on the 27th. On the 29th the Federals again hit the Fort, this time with more than 2600 rounds, but still the Rebels refused to surrender.
The Seventh Regiment was also involved in the movements between Bridgeport and Chattanooga and the attached letter describes some of their activities. At this time the strength of the regiment had fallen to about 150 active men.
From the Seventh Ohio
November 2, 1863
HC Gray Dear Sir: during the few weeks pass the seventh Regiment has been very busily engaged ... always in the front and engaged in every battle in Virginia with the exception of those before Richmond they are transferred to the Army of the Cumberland and placed in the extreme advance of the Army. For a while we were encamped at Wartrace, Tenn., and there prospect of our remaining through the winter was very fair. The boys work very hard in building quarters, but no sooner were they finished orders came "backup and be ready to move by the first train." This order caused no small amount of grumbling, but knowing that Army orders must be obeyed, the boys pack up, and on the arrival of the train are off with a cheer.
General Geary, (of Warren), marched from this place with the Second and Third Brigades crossed the Tennessee River at daybreak 26 October. The First brigade crossed the river at seven o'clock the 29th, to join the division. At first it was supposed that the 11th and 12th Corps were to form a junction with Major General Sherman's command, which is now reported near Rome, Ga. This, however is not the case, as the 11th Corps and the Second Division of the 12th marched direct to Lookout Mountain, where they were engaged on the 29th ultimate. The fight is reported as having been a very severe one, in which our loss was heavy. Brig. Gen. Green, commander of the Third Brigade, and Lieut. LR Davis, of the Seventh aide de camp to General Geary were wounded and reached here yesterday. General Green is wounded severely in the face. Lieut. Davis received a very severe wound through the shoulder. They go north by first train. The Seventh luckily escaped being in the battle, it being the last Regiment to arrive from Wartrace. They will probably reach the division tonight.
Owing to the recent rebel raid upon the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, the Army is subsisting upon half rations. Wheelers rebel cavalry dashed in upon the road and burned a bridge, which prevented the passage of trains for five days. Hardly a day passes out what a train is thrown from the track. The gorillas who hide in the mountains during the daytime, come out at night and remove a rail or place something on the track to obstruct the passage of the trains, and are then off again. Very daring attempt was made by guerrillas on the night of 25 October, to plunder a train. It was done in this manner: a deep hole was dug between the tracks, which was filled with powder and covered very lightly; a percussion tube was attached in some manner, so that by pulling a string the powder would be touched off. The gorillas hid themselves in the bushes near the track and waited the arrival of the train. The train bound for Nashville came along and just as the engine reached the spot, the torpedo was fired, blowing the engine to Adams and killing the engineer and firemen. The rebels immediately rallied upon the train but were met by a strong guard, which happened to be on board and were handsomely repulsed. Four of the rebels were captured and instantly shot by the guard. A strong guard is now kept up on the road between Nashville and this place, which will probably prevent a repetition of the act.
Workmen are now employed night and day in rebuilding the railroad bridge over the Tennessee River at this place. The bridge 2000 feet long and hundred and 25 feet high. It was destroyed by the rebels in their retreat from Tennessee.
The late heavy rains have caused the River to rise sufficiently for small steamers to pass Muscles Shoals. It is reported that a steamboat has arrived direct from Cairo loaded with provisions. The government is running three or four small steamers between Bridgeport in Chattanooga. Hardly a trip is made without being attacked by the artillery of the enemy. They have every strong point near the River fortified, and Cannon mounted upon the works commanding the channel of the river. If the enemy can be driven from their stronghold on Lookout Mountain, direct communication can then be established with the main Army.
The mountain roads on such poor condition that it is impossible for a six mill team to draw more than 10 boxes of bread each box weighs 50 pounds, making a load of only 500 pounds.
The removal of General Rosecrans caused dissatisfaction among the troops. General Thomas, as succeeded, however is a very popular officer, and everything will go on as smoothly as though they're old commander was still with them.
General grant established his headquarters at Chattanooga. His appointment as commander of the Western department seems to satisfy all.