It was now obvious that the decisive conflict between the two armies, which had so long been striving for the advantage of strategic position, and fighting in hostile competition, was at last to occur. Each had its distinctive advantage. The Federals were led by Grant, with Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, and Hooker as his lieutenants,—a list which may fairly recall Napoleon and his marshals. On the other hand, the Southerners, lying secure in intrenched positions upon the precipitous sides and lofty summits of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, seemed invulnerably placed. It does not belong to this narrative to describe the terrific contest in which these two combatants furiously locked horns on November 24 and 25. It was Hooker’s brave soldiers who performed the conspicuous feat which was conclusive of victory. Having, by command, stormed the first line of rifle-pits on the ascent, upon the Confederate left, they suddenly took the control into their own hands; without orders they dashed forward, clambered upward in a sudden and resistless access of fighting fury, and in an hour, emerging above the mists which shrouded the mid-mountain from the anxious view of General Grant, they planted the stars and stripes on top of Lookout Mountain. They had fought and won what was poetically christened “the battle above the clouds.” Sherman, with seven divisions, had meanwhile been making desperate and bloody assaults upon Missionary Ridge, and had gained the first hilltop; but the next one seemed impregnable. It was, however, not necessary for him to renew the costly assault; for Hooker’s victory, which was quickly followed by a handsome advance by Sheridan, on Sherman’s right, so turned the Confederate position as to make it untenable.
The Northerners were exasperated to find, among the Confederate troops who surrendered as captives in these two battles, prisoners of war taken at Vicksburg and Port Hudson, who had been paroled and never exchanged.
On the eve of this battle Longstreet had started northward to cut off and destroy Burnside in Knoxville, and no sooner was the actual fighting over than Grant sent Sherman in all haste to Burnside’s assistance. Thereupon Longstreet fell back towards Virginia, and came to a resting-place midway, where he afterward lay unharmed and unharming for many months. Thus at last the long-deferred wish of the President was fulfilled, and the chief part of East Tennessee was wrested from Confederate occupation. Among the loyal inhabitants the great rejoicing was in proportion to the sufferings which they had so long been undergoing.