Today in History

Today in History: November 23

The Battle of Chattanooga

Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga, Tennessee As Seen from Bragg Hill, Missionary Ridge,
Copyrighted for J. C. Anderson, Trustee,
1887?
Panoramic Maps

On November 23, 1863, the Battle of Chattanooga began. Over the next three days, Union forces drove Confederate troops away from Chattanooga, Tennessee, into Georgia, setting the stage for Union General William T. Sherman's triumphant march to the sea.

The Battle of Chattanooga was one of the most dramatic turnabouts in American military history. Northern forces captured the steamboat and railhead center shortly after their September defeat at Chickamauga. In the early fall of 1863, Rebel forces moved into the mountains and bluffs overlooking Chattanooga, preventing the Union Army's escape.

Commanding posts at Lookout Mountain, almost 2,000 feet above the Tennessee River Valley, Confederates laid siege to Chattanooga, firing down on river and rail traffic entering the village from Union-controlled western Tennessee. From Missionary Ridge, east of Chattanooga, they blocked the only rail line to the northeast and Virginia. Stymied by the Confederate blockade, U.S. troops, under command of Major General William S. Rosecrans, seemed destined to fall.

Their fate changed in mid-October. On October 19, General Ulysses S. Grant replaced the beleaguered Rosecrans with Major General George Thomas. Shortly thereafter, Major General Joseph Hooker moved into the area with 20,000 Union forces. Grant followed on October 22. Within days, Union engineers constructed a pontoon bridge west of town and were directing supplies into Chattanooga. In mid-November, General Sherman arrived with 17,000 more men. The Union Army was ready to fight.

Lookout Mountain view
View from the Top of Lookout Mountain, Tenn.,
February 1864.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

On November 23, Thomas' troops overtook Confederates occupying Orchard Knob between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge. The next day, in what is known as the "battle above the Clouds," Hooker drove his men on to victory at Lookout Mountain. On November 25, the last day of battle, the Union Army crushed the Rebel line at Missionary Ridge, sending the Confederates further south toward their final defeat.

Learn more about the Civil War:

  • Search across the American Memory pictorial collections on Lookout Mountain to find more photographs of this historic battle site, including a view of Craven House, where some of the battle's most brutal fighting took place.
  • View additional Civil War photographs. Browse the subject index of Selected Civil War Photographs. The collection's timeline, charts the war from the South's secession in 1861 to the surrender of Confederate troops in April and May 1865.
  • Locate other Civil War features by searching the Today in History Archive on the term Civil War. Read, for example, about other Civil War battles, including the First Battle of Bull Run, the Second Battle of Manassas, and the three day Battle of Gettysburg.
  • Browse Civil War Maps by subject, place, creator, or title for views of more than 2,600 Civil War maps and charts as well as atlases and sketchbooks.

Franklin Pierce

President Franklin Pierce
President Franklin Pierce,
between 1855 and 1865.
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

The great objects of our pursuit as a people are best to be attained by peace, and are entirely consistent with the tranquility and interests of the rest of mankind.

Franklin Pierce, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1853.

Franklin Pierce, fourteenth president of the United States, was born on November 23, 1804, in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. Like his predecessor James K. Polk, Pierce was a little-known figure retired from national politics when the Democratic Party summoned him to be its candidate for president.

The son of a former governor of New Hampshire, Pierce was elected to the New Hampshire legislature at the age of twenty-five. He went on to represent New Hampshire in the U.S. House of Representatives (1833-37) and in the Senate (1837-1842). He resigned from the Senate a year before the end of his term, however, in deference to his wife, Jane, a chronically depressed and physically fragile woman who loathed her husband’s involvement in politics, particularly at the national level. 

With the exception of a brief stint as a high-ranking officer in the Mexican War, Pierce spent the next decade practicing law and serving as federal district attorney in Concord, New Hampshire. When told that the 1852 Democratic national convention had nominated her husband for president as a compromise candidate on its forty-ninth ballot, Jane Pierce “fainted dead away.”  The  Pierces’ young son, the only one still living of their three children, was killed in a gruesome railway accident two months before his father’s inauguration.

Mrs. Franklin Pierce
Mrs. Franklin Pierce
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

As president (1853-57), Pierce opposed antislavery legislation in the interests of promoting sectional harmony and economic prosperity. His administration paved the way for construction of a transcontinental railway and promoted American settlement of the Northwest. During his presidency, the United States acquired 30,000 square miles of territory from Mexico through the Gadsden Purchase. Pierce's accomplishments were overshadowed by his support for the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which replaced the Missouri Compromise of 1820 with permission for each new state to decide on the basis of popular sovereignty whether or not it would allow slavery. One result was the outbreak of violent conflict in the territory that came to be known as “Bleeding Kansas.”

A hard-working but generally weak chief executive, Pierce was blamed for heightening sectional tensions within the Democratic Party and for the concomitant rise of the new Republican Party. He failed to win the Democratic nomination for reelection in 1856. Fellow Democrat James Buchanan succeeded him in the White House, and Pierce entered an unhappy retirement in which his genial temperament was increasingly overtaken by alcoholism. His wife died in 1863, his hostility to the Lincoln administration isolated him during the Civil War, and he himself died a notably lonely man on October 8, 1869.

Exterior of house
Pierce Homestead, Hillsboro, New Hampshire, Exterior I,
September 13, 1961.
Samuel Gottscho, photographer.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955