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The Girl on the Mountain 1

MY father was a carpenter here in Chattanooga, but a time came when he had to stop work on account of tuberculosis. The physicians in town had given him up. However, he decided to move to the top of Lookout Mountain and try the rest and air cure. He rented a little log cabin up there. That was in 1851 when I was two years old, We carried our goods up an Indian trail on packmules. Mother took me up in her lap on horseback. Several families were already living on the mountain, and a road was built the next year. Then more families moved there, and Father put up a frame house. His health had improved, and he was now able to work as usual.

The mountain rises to a height of about three thousand feet. It has a flat top, and our house was right on the plateau a mile from the point. We mountain dwellers had gardens and orchards and turnip patches, and we kept cows and pigs. Six miles farther back on the mountain were farms. Near our home was the Lookout Mountain Educational Institute. It had some seventy-five pupils boarding right at the school and a few day pupils, but most of the families at the point had governesses to teach their children books and music.

Our first serious experience in warfare came in August '63 when a Northern detachment under Wilder bombarded the town. It was on a Friday that had been set apart by the Confederate government for fasting and prayer. A Chattanooga woman who had a summer home on the mountain had brought me down to the meeting in her rockaway. The church was crowded and the minister was praying when the first shell came and exploded just outside. I looked around. I thought the gallery had fallen. A woman who sat in the seat in front of me slapped her husband on the back and exclaimed, "My God! Mr. Bruce, the Yankees are coming."

The minister kept right on praying, but the people in the pews all jumped up and got out. There was almost a panic, A great many of them went off south without even going to their homes. The neighbor who had brought me sent her driver to her town house, and he got as much as he could carry in a sheet, and then we hurried back to the mountain. The bombardment damaged the town buildings more or less and a number of people were hit, including a little girl who was killed on the street. But the Yankees didn’t cross the river.

A great many Confederate soldiers were stationed on the mountain, and they had very little to eat. We owned five elegant cows, but the soldiers killed them and issued them out as rations. They got our pigs and chickens, too, and we didn’t have anything left but a flock of guineas. The guineas could fly up in the trees, and they escaped. The country was scoured over by both armies, everything was demoralized, and food wasn’t to be bought for love or money. We just lived from hand to mouth.

Salt was one of the scarcest commodities. That's one thing we couldn’t get along without. People even dug up the ground in their smokehouses to get it. You see meat that had been pickled in brine had been hung in there year after year, and the drippings had fallen to the dirt below. By putting the earth in a hopper and letting water run through it the salt would be carried along. Then, when the water was boiled down, the salt would crystallize, of course it was unrefined, but it was better than none at all.

My father was a Union man, and he had to stay pretty close. Once he was ordered to report to the headquarters of General Bragg who was the chief commander of the Confederates in this vicinity. He had been betrayed by a neighbor woman. She had a grudge against him because he had refused to let our wagon go to town to haul supplies for her. A Confederate officer was sick at our house. We nursed a good many sick soldiers of both armies and so made friends. Mother was terribly distressed about Father's summons, and she told that sick officer of our trouble. So the officer wrote a letter and sent it by an orderly to General Bragg, and Father was let off.

When the battle of Chickamauga was fought it was a very dry time. The springs were all dried up and the dust was ankle deep. Many of the soldiers who marched past our house carried their shoes their feet hurt so. We could see the battleground about a dozen miles off to the south and trace the movements of the armies by the dust and smoke. We could hear the cannonading, too. It was terrible and made us feel as if nobody could live through it.

After the battle the Union army was cooped up here in Chattanooga with only one rough mountain road over which to draw supplies from Bridgeport, sixty miles distant. Sometimes raiders captured the wagon trains and the teams wouldn’t get to bring anything through. When the soldiers had flour they'd take it to some townswoman, and she'd make light bread for them and get a part of the flour in pay. She took toll like a miller. A relative of ours gave some of the soldiers two sacks of shelled corn at a time when they were suffering for food. They filled the little pint cups they drank their coffee out of, and they parched the corn and ate it and were glad to get it.

Ten thousand horses and mules died here within a month for want of food. Their bodies lay all along the road. I counted as many as thirteen in one pile. They made the air in the valley just stifling. It was all the soldiers could do to bury the men who died, and they didn’t bother with the horses and mules.

There was always lots of sickness in the army. Sometimes there'd be an epidemic of measles, That's a serious disease for grown persons. A man would get delirious and wander out of the tent or house where he was, and he'd be out over night and catch cold and die. There was smallpox galore toward the end of the war. Lots of soldiers, too, died from scurvy. Scurvy was caused by eating too much salt meat, and men sick with it were just crazy to get onions or any kind of vegetables. That was the kind of food they needed if they were going to recover. The diseases that ravaged the armies spread to the homes. The colored troops were a special menace in carrying the infection, so many of them were gadding about the country and getting into families.

While the Union troops were besieged here there was great lack of firewood in the place. Cameron Hill, which was covered with beautiful trees was soon swept bare, and the soldiers even dug up the stumps to burn in their fires. No barns or outbuildings were left anywhere.

Grant arrived late in October, and a wagon road was established to a point down the river where supplies could be brought by boat. Then Sherman came with reinforcements, and on November 24th Fighting Joe Hooker assailed Lookout Mountain which was held by the Confederates. We sometimes have a fog here in a gloomy rainy spell so dense that you can't see anybody fifty yards away. It was raining that morning, and one of those thick fogs was hanging about the mountain sides. The Confederates couldn’t see the movements of the Union troops and were not aware of their approach until they had reached the base of the mountain. The plateau at the summit is bounded by a palisade or precipice of rocks with stony, wooded slopes below. Some of the Federals fought their way up to the palisade on the north side of the mountain.

The Confederates had fortified themselves on the plateau, but they were expecting to be attacked from the other direction. However, they readjusted themselves, and they formed a line of battle extending from the summit to the valley. In the fighting that followed they were gradually pushed back along the mountain side and around its eastern end. The contending troops under the point at the foot of the palisades were above the clouds, and they were all invisible from the valley. They fought until after dark. The firing sounded like the popping of popcorn in a skillet.

A good many people took their bedding and things and went down under the cliffs on the other side of the mountain and stayed all night. Our family didn’t run. We were up till late, and then there was a lull in the battle and we went to sleep as usual.

Some of the signal corps had been stopping at our house. The mountain was an excellent place to signal from, and on many a night we had watched the waving of answering signal torches on distant high points. The signal corps men had to leave in a hurry, and they told us a retreat had been ordered and that the commissary stores, which were in a vacant house near by, would have to be left behind. They wanted us to have some of those stores.

Mother and I and Father hurried to the vacant house and brought away what we could carry in our arms and hid the things in the attic, We had hardly done that when some Union troops came and searched the house. They looked up in the attic, but they didn’t find our commissary stores.

We went out and walked about later in the day, and I remember seeing a dead sharpshooter. He had established himself in a crevice of a mountain cliff, and from there had been picking off the Union troops. But finally they saw and shot him, and he fell all in a heap down in the crevice. His body was there for several days.


Missionary Ridge rises south of the town to the height of a few hundred feet, and on its crest were posted fifteen thousand Confederates with cannon. The very day that Hooker completed his conquest of Lookout Mountain the Union troops successfully stormed Missionary Ridge. The assault was made at three o'clock in the afternoon, and we could see the men as they charged up the slope with the sun shining on their accouterments. It was a wonderful sight. The battle was short and decisive. The Confederates fled in wild disorder, and the guns that they abandoned were turned against them.

There was great loss of life, a host of wounded, and numerous prisoners. The fighting forces were still further reduced by desertions. Back on the mountain a score of miles was a wild, isolated region that was full of deserters from both armies. The poor country folks out there lost all they had. Yes, the army played havoc in one way or another with every section it was in.


1 She was a serene, white-haired woman in an attractive home of more than ordinary refinement. I was her guest one evening while she recalled for my benefit her childhood life in war days.

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