Friday, February 19, 2016

The Battle of Lookout Mountain

"The 8th regiment's most shining moment came at the battle of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. In late November, Union forces attacked Confederate troops on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, and the 8th Kentucky joined the fog-covered assault on Lookout. By the night of 24 November, they held a ridge across from their objective."
"At sunrise the next morning, six volunteers from the 8th Kentucky --- Captain John Wilson, Sergeant Harris Davis, Private William Witt, Sergeant Joseph Wagers, Sergeant James Wood, and Private Joel Bradley --- scaled the cliffs to the top of Lookout Mountain. There, finding that the Confederates had abandoned the position, the Kentuckians unfurled their flag and planted it on the summit. When the Union troops at the bottom of the mountain saw the banner, they erupted in cheers."

My 3rd great-grandfather, Harris Hopper Davis, was one of the six heroes that morning at Lookout Mountain. No stories were passed down in my family, so I had absolutely no idea that an ancestor of mine had earned his place in history, but that's what happened.
Harris Hopper Davis was born in Brush Creek, Knox County, Kentucky, to John Davis and Mary "Polly" Curtis. Harris married when he was 17 years old, and his bride, Amanda Woolum, was just 13. Their first child, a daughter they called Mary Jane, was born 25 July 1851. She was followed by a brother, William, born 18 November 1853; Sophia, born 25 December 1855; Josephus, born in 1857; and Jeanette, born 21 October 1860. Their last child, Eva, was born in 1878.
The Civil War began on 12 April 1861 and lasted until 22 June 1865. Harris Davis enlisted on 2 September 1861 at Camp Dick Robinson, and joined Capt. Mayhew's Kentucky Volunteers, 1st Brigade, for a term of 3 years. By January 1862, Harris Davis had been promoted to Corporal of the 8th Regiment, Kentucky Infantry. On 6 April 1862, he fought at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee.
"On the morning of April 6, 1862, 40,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston poured out of the nearby woods and struck a line of Union soldiers occupying ground near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. The overpowering Confederate offensive drove the unprepared Federal forces from their camps and threatened to overwhelm Ulysses S. Grant's entire command. Some Federals made determined stands and by afternoon, they had established a battle line at the sunken road, known as the "Hornet's Nest."
"Repeated Rebel attacks failed to carry the Hornet's Nest, but massed artillery helped to turn the tide as Confederates surrounded the Union troops and captured, killed, or wounded most. During the first day's attacks, Gen. Johnston was mortally wounded and was replaced by P.G.T. Beauregard. Fighting continued until after dark, but the Federals held. By the next morning, the reinforced Federal army numbered about 40,000, outnumbering Beauregard's army of less than 30,000. Grant's April 7th counteroffensive overpowered the weakened Confederate forces and Beauregard's army retired from the field. The two day battle at Shiloh produced more than 23,000 casualties and was the bloodiest battle in American history at its time."

         Right after Shiloh, from May until the end of June 1862, Harris Davis went home on furlough. He hadn't returned by August 18th and he was dropped from the rolls. He returned to his unit in December, explaining that he'd had a 20-day furlough, but while at home he had been ill and was unable to return. He was restored to duty and rank by Col. Sam Beatty. Harris Davis had returned just in time to participate in one of the pivotal battles of the war: The Battle of Stones River.
        Stones River was brutal, and mistakes were made on both sides. Over the week of fighting, 30% of soldiers on both sides had been killed or wounded. Harris Davis was promoted to Sergeant shortly after Stones River. He was promoted to 3rd Sergeant in April 1863, and promoted again to 1st Sergeant in June 1863. But the highlight of his military career was still ahead of him.
         When General Grant took command of the Army at Chattanooga and a reorganization was made, the 8th Kentucky was still in the Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas. Active operations having begun, the 8th was with Whitaker's brigade on the south side of Tennessee River at Shellmound on the 22nd of November; the next day it moved to Lookout Mountain, and that night bivouacked in Lookout valley. On the 24th, they marched to Wauhatchie, where Whittaker's brigade was to operate with Gen. Geary. The brigade advanced from Wauhatchie and began to press up Lookout Mountain. Gen. Cruft said in his official report:

"The storming of Lookout was a complete success throughout, on account of the dash and intrepidity of the soldiers."  
It would be useless here to describe the wonderful battle. It is enough to say in that extraordinary assault, called the Battle above the Clouds, the 8th Ky., under its gallant Col. Sidney M. Barnes in Whitaker's Brigade, led the way, and planted its colors first on top of the mountain. In the climbing fight of November 24th, advanced troops reached the Palisades and there rested for the night. Early next morning the push was made for the summit. Gen. Cruft said,
         "At daylight on the morning of the 25th my command lay along the slope of the mountain, and arrangements were made before dawn to scale the summit." He added, "The 8th Kentucky was the successful competitor for the honor."

General Hooker said in his official report:

         "Several regiments were detailed to scale it [the summit], but to the 8th Kentucky must belong the distinction of having been foremost to reach the crest, and at sunrise display our flag from the peak of Lookout amid the wild and prolonged cheers of the men whose dauntless valor had borne them to that point.
"The members of the 8th who were foremost in this daring deed were Capt. Wilson, Sergts. Davis, Wagers and Woods, and Privates Hill and Bradley. Before daylight six adventurous, active volunteers from the 8th Kentucky Infantry scaled the palisades and ran up the stars and stripes."
         The flag which was thus unfurled by the 8th Kentucky, on the lofty summit of Lookout Mountain, was one which was presented to the regiment by the ladies of Estill county. The survivors of the regiment have it in their possession, and it was carried in the parade through the streets of Louisville by the Grand Army of the Republic in the year 1895.

Sources: "The Union Regiments of Kentucky," The Union regiments of Kentucky [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Speed, Thos.. The Union regiments of Kentucky. Louisville, Ky.: Courier-Journal Job Print. Co., 1897.