On this date 149 years ago two mighty armies were locked in an important battle. The war was the American Civil War, and the place was one that President Abraham Lincoln had recognized in 1862 as crucial, saying "To take and hold the railroad at or east of Cleveland (in Tennessee, near Chattanooga) in East Tennessee I think fully as important as the taking and holding of Richmond."
On Nov. 23, the Battle of Chattanooga had begun. The names of some of the players are well known today, such as Grant, Sherman, Longstreet, Bragg, Wheeler, and the not so well known Rosecrans. There was another minor player at the time, with a future Fort Leavenworth connection, but he's saved for the end.
Places during the battle included Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and Chickamauga Creek. As the name Lookout Mountain might suggest, the area had high mountains everywhere. It was rough going for any force but light infantry.
Many years ago I was fortunate to get to go on a CGSC staff ride for students to Chickamauga, and the three-day visit included Lookout Mountain. It was my first staff ride, which staff and faculty got to go on if not enough students signed up.
We were all tired and sore just getting on and off the buses, and can imagine how the troops felt as they had to walk up and down the mountains. The instructor read excerpts from letters troops wrote home, and I remember one to this day.
A Union soldier wrote to his mother that he hoped he was killed in the upcoming fighting so he wouldn't have to climb and walk back over the unending mountains after the battle. That is some really rough terrain.
The series of skirmishes and battles around Chattanooga ended in one of the most complete Union victories of the war, according to the U.S. Army's official history book, American Military History.
The Confederate army was totally defeated and forced to retreat south, men and materiel were captured, the rail center of Chattanooga was permanently in Union hands, and the rich food-producing area of eastern Tennessee was lost to the Confederacy.
Before I run out of room, here's the Leavenworth connection. A lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry was recommended for the newly created Medal of Honor. His citation said he "Seized the colors of his regiment at a critical moment and planted them on the captured works on the crest of Missionary Ridge."
His deed was done on Nov. 25, 1863, and the medal was approved to be awarded. But, as with many Medals of Honor approved during the Civil War, it was not awarded until June 1890, to 1st Lt. Arthur MacArthur, Jr.
The Leavenworth connection? When a private soldier-created insurance company was formed at Fort Leavenworth in 1887, then-Capt. MacArthur was the secretary for several years. Known then as The Army Co-Operative Fire Association, today it is still in the area with an office on post and the main office on Eisenhower Road, and is known as Armed Forces Insurance.
Page 2 of 2 - Before he retired, MacArthur became the commanding general of the Army, today called the chief of staff. And he sired a rather famous son, named Douglas, who also had a Fort Leavenworth connection. Both are in the Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame.
I've always wondered why it took 27 years to award our highest decoration.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.