Nov. 25, 1863
Confederate artillery fire did not slow the Federal advance; the weak volleys from Rebel skirmishers and those in the rifle pits at the base of the Ridge failed to stop the enemy infantry. As these troops retreated up to the crest of Missionary Ridge, Confederates on top could not fire down without shooting into their comrades climbing the steep slope. Many a barefooted Rebel soldier had a terrible time retreating up the slope of the ridge, shooting occasionally, reloading, carrying his knap or haversack. One Confederate recalled “scraping, cutting and bruising his bare feet, struggling up the ridge.”
The initial Federal breakthrough of the Confederate lines along the center on top of Missionary Ridge occurred where Patton Anderson’s division was deployed. It was Anderson’s old Mississippi brigade commanded by Col. William F. Tucker that was the first to break and retreat, then those of Arthur Manigault and Zachariah Deas.
Deas’ departure uncovered the flank of Brigadier Gen. Alfred J. Vaughan, Jr., the last of Anderson’s division who were still battling the Yankees on the northern end of Missionary Ridge. Vaughan’s soldiers had skirmished with Federals earlier in the rifle pits at the base of the ridge.
Tipton’s Rebels in the consolidated 13th and 154th Tennessee infantry regiments, Vaughan’s brigade, had been in reserve on top of the ridge; they now became engaged with the Yankees. Vaughan’s front was assailed by the Union brigade of Edward Phelps; Phelps was killed ascending the slope. Vaughan’s left flank was also being attacked; the 11th Tennessee under Col. George W. Gordon (later Tipton’s United States Congressman from 1907-1911) was directed to charge Van Derveer’s Indianans coming from the south. At this point Vaughan’s entire embattled brigade advanced on the foe, firing a deadly volley into the Federals at 40 paces. Their success was only or a moment. Vaughan’s men were ordered to fall back to Chickamauga Station by Gen. Patton Anderson.
As Anderson’s division gave way, the divisions of Generals’ William B. Bate (future Tennessee governor and United States senator) and Alexander P. Stewart crumbled. (Stewart had commanded an artillery battalion at Randolph in 1861.) These divisions were in the corps commanded by former U. S. Vice-President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.
One of Stewart’s brigades was commanded by Gen. Otho French Strahl. This Ohio-born, Dyersburg lawyer commanded Tipton’s men in the 4th and 5th Tennessee Consolidated and also served at Randolph in 1861. Strahl commanded the Rebel left wing of the division that day. Strahl’s Tennesseans, 974 men and Marcellus Stovall’s 741 Georgians extended southward from Bate’s line along the Bragg’s headquarters front. Randall Lee Gibson commanded a small Louisiana brigade of 764 muskets to the right or north of Strahl. Jesse J. Finely’s Florida brigade was next to Gibson’s command and numbered about 750 muskets. These four brigades numbered 3,279 men.
Stewart’s line was hit from the front, rear and both flanks by 10,000 Federals. The entire division was routed. Dawson’s and Stanford’s batteries were able to withdraw and save their guns. Stewart’s Rebels were attacked by Richard Johnson’s division and the brigades of Francis T. Sherman and Charles Harker of Philip Sheridan’s division. William Dillon describes the ensuing fighting that Covington’s “Tipton Rifles” were engaged:
“At daylight we marched about one mile further to the right…I did not see the General Stewart all day. Shortly after daylight the 31st and 33rd (Tennessee) regiments were thrown out as…skirmishers; our (4th and 5th Tennessee) regiments (remained in rifle pits prepared by Gen. Bushrod Johnson) to support them. We lay in this situation about half way up the side of the ridge for about three hours when we were sent out as skirmishers…”
Continued next week