Immigrant Soldiers Battle Above the Clouds to Capture Lookout Mountain

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"The Battle of Lookout Mountain," painted by James Walker, immortalized the struggle for the mountain. Walker was an English immigrant.

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German refugee Peter Osterhaus had just buried his wife when he met his army division on the edge of battle outside of Chattanooga in Tennessee on November 22, 1863. He was the Brigadier General whose men were tasked with helping to drive a Confederate force off of a nearly 2,000-foot-high mountain. He was to play a key role in the operation organized by Major General Joe Hooker, a man with considerable prejudices against German immigrants. In spite of his antagonism to Germans, Hooker described Osterhaus later as “a glorious soldier . . . the best representative of the European service it has been my fortune to be become acquainted with.”1

Germans were not the only immigrants at Lookout Mountain. Col. David Ireland, a Scottish immigrant, commanded the 137th New York Infantry from the area around Binghamton. He had played a key role in the defense of Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg just four months earlier and he showed himself a steady leader at Lookout.

More than 7,000 Confederates defended the imposing heights of Lookout Mountain. On the morning of November 24th, the Union troops began their push against the dug-in Confederates. Although the Confederate positions on the mountain looked formidable, as Osterhaus moved forward, the defenders found they could not support one another or retreat. Parts of Lookout Mountain were invisible from the valley below because of low clouds that obscured the view. As the troops of Osterhaus and Hooker fought above the cloud cover, Union soldiers watching in Chattanooga could see the progress of their comrades.2

John Henry Otto, a German immigrant who had become a Union officer, was one of those men who paid keen attention to the Battle Above the Clouds. “Slowly, very slowly,” Otto wrote after the war, “the rebels fell back defending each rock, every tree with great obstinacy. Men would fight from opposite sides of the same rock…” This fight up the slopes was not carried out by units in strict parade order. Otto wrote that the men went uphill through the rough terrain alone or in small groups. “It was hide and seek,” he said, “but a desperate killing business nonetheless.” Otto’s regiment was moved towards Lookout Mountain to support the attackers, who struggled with the Confederates into the night.3

The capture of the summit of Lookout Mountain was celebrated throughout the United States.

German surgeon Carl Uterhard was with Hooker’s men when the fighting started. He was ordered to the central hospital for the XI Corps, where he had a “clear view of the battlefield.” The top of Lookout was at first blocked from view, but then, Uterhard wrote home to Germany two day later, “a gust of wind dispersed the fog, revealing a sight that caused us to cry out a lively Hurrah. Way up in the mountains, we saw our flag at the front of one of the regiments, and fighting at every step, they were moving forward in one long battle line.”4

The Union forces defeated the Confederates and took 1,000 of them as prisoners. The Confederate stranglehold over Chattanooga was a thing of the past. However, the rebel army still held Missionary Ridge south of the city and would have to be dislodged from its entrenchments before the Union armies could move south to capture Atlanta. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all the Union armies in Chattanooga, would soon launch his gambit to drive the Confederates back into Georgia.5

Lookout Mountain has a commanding view of the City of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River.

Sources:

  1. The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017) Kindle Location 1338; Memoirs of a Dutch Mudsill: The War Memoirs of John Henry Otto edited by David Gould and James B. Kennedy published by Kent State University Press (2004); Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns (Great Campaigns of the Civil War) by Steven E. Woodworth published by University of Nebraska Press (2009); The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); Yankee Warhorse: A Biography of Major General Peter Osterhaus by Mary Bobbitt Townsend published by University of Missouri Press (2010); Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home by Walter D. Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich, published by The University of North Carolina Press (2009).
  2. The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017); The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994)
  3. Memoirs of a Dutch Mudsill: The War Memoirs of John Henry Otto edited by David Gould and James B. Kennedy published by Kent State University Press (2004) pp. 207-209.
  4. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home by Walter D. Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich, published by The University of North Carolina Press (2009) p. 167.
  5. The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017) Kindle Location 1641.

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