99 Year Old Article Describes 21st Michigan Activities in 1863-64

By Bruce Robere 

Recently I came into possession of a June 28, 1903 Duluth Sunday News Tribune article written by Marcus W. Bates former lieutenant with the 21st Michigan.  He tells an interesting story. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. So here’s his article as written by him 99 years ago.



Twenty-first Michigan Infantry, Volunteers, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee – Taken in 1864.


In the advance of General Rosencrans .from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga in the fall of 1863, General McCook’s corps was given the right of the army and General Sheridan’s division the right of McCook’s corps. This position gave Sheridan’s division the longest swing, like the last man on the end of the line in the old school boy game of “crack the whip.”

After crossing the Tennessee river at Bridgeport about September, McCook was directed to support the cavalry division in an advance on the right across Lookout mountain to Summerville, Ga. General Sheridan’s division was assigned to that task and took up the line of march across Sand Mountain, by way of Valley Head and Winston’s Gap, reaching Alpine, on the eastern slope of Lookout Mountain in Broomtown valley, September 9. Thomas had crossed Lookout Mountain at Cooper’s and Steven’s gaps and taken possession of McLemore’s cove. General Crittenden had moved straight on Chattanooga from Bridgeport. 

Bragg Driven Out. 

General Bragg and his Confederate army held Chattanooga and the northern end of Lookout mountain until driver out by General Crittenden, but the concentration of the armies for the       battle of Chickamauga prevented the Union forces from occupying the ridge. After the battle of Chickamauga, General Bragg again occupied that commanding position and planted a battery of siege guns on the extreme northern peak, overlooking Chattanooga and the Union armies encamped there. General Sheridan’s division still held the extreme right of the line, and the Twenty-first Michigan Infantry regiment was posted at the river on the extreme right, directly beneath the battery of Bragg on top of the mountain.

During all the weeks the Union armies were besieged in Chattanooga, that battery maintained a continual fusillade on the Union lines, but only one man was killed—Private Peck, of Co. F, Twenty-first Michigan.

The view from Chattanooga as the soldiers took position in and about the place was grand and inspiring, varied by valleys coves, ridges, knobs and mountains. To the east the line of Missionary ridge, running almost due north and south, along whose crests and sides the tents of the enemy gleamed In the sunlight and camp fires sparkled like thousands of flaming stars at night: To the westward, Racoon Mountain and Walden’s Ridge, with abrupt sides towering against the skies, shut off the valleys from the west and north. 

Is a Famous Peak. 

Southward is Lookout Mountain, 1,600 feet above the valleys on either side , running southeasterly until it closes the valley in countless coves and pockets guarded by mountain sentries, the last, or, in soldier’s phrase, “the out-post,” being Round To, or Bald Knob, just opposite Trention, Georgia, eighteen miles away. The soldier pausing from his labors on that miniature mountain, Cameron Hill, with field glass on clear days, could see down the Chattanooga Valley seventy miles to where the palisades of Lookout Mountain disappear and the mountain descends into the valleys of Alabama.

The southern front of Walden’s Ridge was in full view in the evening sunlight, savagely grand, yet charming the soul with thrills of inspiration, The bold outlines of Racoon could be seen with dense forests of pine and oak and the rapid rushing Tennessee river, like a haunted dream, wandering through the valley, dashing through giant rifts, now sparkling in sunlight, then dashing in foam and fury in shadows deep a mountain base, until phantom-like, it is lost beyond sight nearly a hundred miles away.

Again glancing eastward along the crest of Missionary ridge, to where McFarland’s cap cuts through it, far beyond in the dim distance you see the peaks of Kennesaw. Slowly moving your glass along the crest and beyond, you trace the Blue Mountain range of North Georgia, on and up into North Carolina, until you get a clear view of the Big Smokey towering fully 3,000 feet above the Blue range, the highest peak of which is not less than 120 miles from where you stand.  

Made Ready for Battle. 

 From Cameron hill one could see off to the south the confederate army, as it swarmed through Rossville gap and the greatest comfort to the troops spread along the crest of Missionary ridge. Across the valley in great clouds of dust batteries of artillery galloped in the direction of Lookout mountain. Other clouds of dust marked the advance of unseen forces seeking positions of advantage. The confederate army was on its feet again and another battle loomed in the near distance.

In November, followed the battle of Lookout mountain, fought by General Hooker above the clouds; then that the grand victory of Missionary ridge, when the army of the Cumberland, notwithstanding the assertion of General Grant that it had been so badly whipped It would not fight, carried the ridge 800 feet above It In one grand rush without orders, sweeping the confederates from the crest like chaff.

I have never witnessed a more inspiring sight than the advance of the army up Missionary ridge on that occasion, and can never forget the appearance of the line mounting up, up, on and on, until the gleaming bayonets of our men swarming over the confederate lines on its top, could be seen. In this victory Sheridan still held the extreme right of the line and faced one of the most difficult positions in the line. But with the old enthusiasm that bright morning, his legions faced the foe and again won a grand victory.

Pen and poet will record the story of that engagement as long as the ages roll, and inspiration will enthuse the youth of the republic for all time. 

Many Were Wounded. 

Following the battles around Chattanooga the army was encumbered with a great host of wounded and sick soldiers and the coming campaign southward from Chattanooga would add thousands to that number. The hospital service was entirely inadequate for the great press put upon it. New buildings had to be built to take care of the brave wounded and sick men.

The high plateau of Lookout mountain was selected as the position best fitted for the location of the new hospital buildings, and early in 1864 the Twenty-first Michigan Infantry was detailed from the Engineers’ brigade, of which it was then a part, for the work of erecting the structure. Their camp was on a spur of the mountain on its eastern slope, jutting out like a thumb along the face of the palisade.

On the western side of this thumb-like projection was a ravine, beginning just below the headquarters of the regiment shown in the cut accompanying this article. This ravine fell rapidly until it reached a deep indentation from the east side of the mountain, like a deep day in form of the letter U The southern slope of this U-shaped gorge, where the view was toward Chattanooga, and from where the view was toward Chattanooga, and from where that city could be plainly seen, was selected as the best spot for the hospitals. High above the valleys, where the battles had been fought, overlooking the battle fields, with a clear, cool atmosphere, it was well calculated to give the rest and inspiration needed by the soldiers for the most rapid recovery from wounds and disease.  

Thousands Gave Up Lives. 

Twenty thousand men, more or less, had given their lives, were torn with shot or shell, or lingered with disease contracted in the service of the arduous campaigns which gave to the Union forever that stronghold of the Confederacy in the West, Chattanooga. 

Below our camp several hundred feet, deep under the overhanging cliffs of the mountain, was Lulu lake, a pellucid pool of sparkling water, refreshingly cool and sweet, a. source of the greatest comfort to the troops through the hot summer months. The spot chosen was, indeed, an ideal place for hospitals for wounded and sick soldiers; there could have been no better in that region. Often, with the sun shining brightly on us, the valleys below us would fill with clouds, we witnessed the vivid lightning’s and flash and heard the rolling thunder as the valley was deluged with rain.

It was, indeed, inspiring, and well calculated to bring hope and cheer to the sick and wounded. Some of officers sent home and brought their wives for a visit in camp, and that summer was one of the most happy in all the three years of our service. That fall came all too soon, when, the work on the mountains finished, we again took our place in the lines for the march to the sea.

I visited Lookout mountain again at the time of the dedication of the monuments on the battle field of Chickamauga, 33 years after the fight. I traced out the old camp ground, looked again on the scenes of the stirring times of ‘63, visited the spot where stood the battery that kept up such a constant fusillade on our lines when besieged in Chattanooga, recalled the duty of picket far down the mountain, when with no foe within miles, we maintained the same strict watch as if they were close at hand

How vividly came back to me all those scenes, and how thankful I was that the result was such as it was, a united country, no more fratricidal strife marring the peace of the nation, no more bitterness, but a reunited people. 

Visited National Cemetery. 

I visited the national cemetery where are buried over 13,000 brave men, among them our own beloved Colonel Wells and Captain Edgar Smith, killed at Chickamauga on that eventful Sunday, Sept. 20, 1863. I went again on to Missionary ridge and wondered how it was possible for our soldiers to scale Its seemingly impassable cliffs in the face of a determined and, well armed foe.

Chattanooga had grown from a little straggling village into a great city, with business of magnitude and beautiful dwellings for a prosperous and happy people. I saw again the place where we encamped at the river, under the frowning battery on Lookout’s top, the spot where our regiment built the military bridge across the river, with out a nail or spike.

I recalled the joy with which I received, while passing over that bridge one day in the fall of ‘63, an order from our Major Fox to return to camp at once, and prepare to take a detail from our regiment to Michigan on recruiting service and that happy winter with my family at home.

And above and overshadowing all the place was the lofty brow of Old Lookout, sleeping as peacefully as if war had never with its horrors swept all around its base and over its mountain top and engulfed all the plains below. Pease had brought its blessing and, in the providence of God, will never again give way to civil war and all its woes.


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Last modified date and time: 01/18/2010 13:31