Chattanooga is Major Stop on Tennessee’s Civil War Heritage Trail

Revitalized City is Hub for Marvelous Attractions Especially During Civil War Sesquicentennial

by Karen Rubin

Like most of us, at the start of our journey along the Tennessee Civil War Heritage Trail, I was familiar with the famous battles at Gettysburg, Fredericksberg, Vicksburg, the burning of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea, but, apart from the famous battle of Shiloh, I was completely unaware of the role that Tennessee played. In fact, Tennessee is the only state designated by Congress as a National Civil War Heritage area – so encompassing was the war here.

The battle comes to doorstep: a cannon in front of the Snodgrass House on the Chickamauga battlefield © 2011 Karen Rubin/

Battles were fought in all 95 of Tennessee’s counties- more than 1400 in all – including Shiloh, a horrific battle fought in April 1862, in which Major General Ulysses S. Grant and Major General Don Carlos Buell bested Confederate Generals General Albert Sidney Johnston and General P.G.T. Beauregard, giving the North its first major victory but at a cost of 13,047 Union deaths out of 23,746.

We start our journey along Tennessee’s Civil War Heritage Trail, launched in time for the 150th anniversary, the Sesquicentennial, at Chattanooga, considered by President Lincoln to be as vital as Richmond to winning the war.

The battles fought at Chickamauga in September 1863 and Chattanooga in November 1863 proved pivotal, and so we have come to the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. Officially dedicated on September 18-20, 1895, it is the first National Military Park and the largest in the nation by acreage, and became the model for national military parks at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Shiloh.

What strikes me first is that on these 5300 acres at Chickamauga was the second bloodiest battlefield after Gettysburg – 36,000 casualties in just 2 1/2 days of fighting; 4,000 died here, 3,000 more died of their wounds.

But what affects me most is that soon after the Civil War ended, in 1865, soldiers from both sides who had fought here felt compelled to return.

In 1889, 15,000 veterans from North and South came back to discuss turning these fields into a military park, and set down the first monuments.

“The veterans of union and confederates came together in reconciliation and reunification, to show world the United States is reunited,” says Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park Historian James Ogden during our tour.

Cannons aligned on the Chickamauga battlefield; years after the war, there was so much shrapnel, the field could not be farmed, but instead, was “mined” for the scrapmetal © 2011 Karen Rubin/

In recommending creation of the park, both House and Senate military affairs committees pointed out that probably no other field in the world presented more formidable natural obstacles to large scale military operations than the slopes of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

Taken together, these battlefields offered unparalleled opportunities for historical and professional military study of the operations of two great armies as they both encountered the multiple military obstacles created by forests, steep mountains, open fields, and streams. From strategically placed observation towers placed on the Chickamauga Battlefield, Missionary Ridge, and Lookout Mountain, you get a sense of the grand campaign that extended over a 150 mile front. No battlefield park of this quality and magnitude could be found in any other location in the world.

Vicksburg, Mississippi, that key port on the mighty Mississippi River, had fallen to General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, unlocking the bottleneck the Confederates had put up preventing northern states like Illinois and Michigan from transporting goods to the Gulf of Mexico, which had put a stranglehold on the northern economy, eroding Northern support for the war.

But after the Northern victory at Vicksburg, the writing was on the wall that the South could not win a military victory against the North. the fight now moved to Tennessee, to Chattanooga, where all four railroads, from east and west, north and south, converged, and which was the central supply point for the South.

President Lincoln regarded taking Chattanooga as important as taking Richmond, Ogden says.

Here in Tennessee, the Confederates put up a tremendous fight, battling now not so much to win a military victory, but to gain political advantage for the peace. They were hoping to extend the war, extract such losses of blood and treasure, to dishearten the Northerners already sick of war, and get better terms.

Had these battles turned out differently, there could have been a very different outcome.

The Battle Begins

At Chickamauga, Union soldiers used the Spencer Repeating Rifle, the AK-47 of its day, giving the Federals a huge advantage over the single-shot firing muskets the Confederates carried. The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park Visitors Center includes the Fuller collection of American Military Shoulder Arms © 2011 Karen Rubin/

The campaign that brought the armies to the banks of Chickamauga Creek began late in June, 1863 when General William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, almost 60,000 strong, moved from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, against General Braxton Bragg’s 43,000 Army of Tennessee. Six months earlier, these same armies had clashed at Stones River (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) where, after a three day battle, the Confederates retreated after a “near victory.” Now, once more, through a series of skillful marches, Rosecrans forced the Army of Tennessee to withdraw southeastward toward Chattanooga. There Bragg dug in northeast of the city expecting an attack from Rosecrans in that area that never came. Early in September, the Federals crossed the Tennessee River to the southeast of Chattanooga and again forced Bragg to withdraw without a fight, as reported by the historian for the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment.

Fighting began shortly after dawn on September 19 when Union infantry encountered Confederate cavalry (Forrest) at Jay’s Mill. This brought on a general battle that spread south for nearly four miles The armies fought all day on the 19th and gradually the Confederates pushed the Federals back to LaFayette Road. On the 20th Bragg again tried to drive between the Federal force and Chattanooga, but failed to dislodge Rosecrans’ line. Then the fortunes of war changed in favor of the Confederates when, due to an error, the Union General Rosecrans ordered a division (Woods) to close on the division to his north. This movement created a gap where by chance Confederate General James Longstreet’s right wing was attacking. As the Confederates poured through the Federal line much of the Federal right, including General Rosecrans, were routed from the field.

The Union army retreated in to Chattanooga. But even though the Confederates won the battle that September, they did not press their advantage. Instead of focusing their attacks there, Longstreet was sent to attack Knoxville. President Lincoln had time to replace the disgraced Rosecrans with General Ulysses Grant, who had brought the North its greatest victories.

Nation’s First National Military Park

The visit to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Chickamauga Battlefield) commemorating the 1863 Civil War campaign, is eye-opening and (as a first-hand travel experience should) brings a much greater understanding of this intensely complex chapter in our history.

We start at the Visitors Center where I learn about the Spencer repeating rifles that some of the Union soldiers carried, used here for the first time. The semi-automatic weapon of its day, it gave a terrific advantage to those soldiers, who were able to get off 15 to 20 shots a minute, compared to only three shots a minute for a muzzle rifle. But the Union War Department did not like the rifles – it was thought that soldiers would waste a lot of expensive ammunition – and did not issue them in great numbers. The soldiers actually had to buy their own, at $32 each (equivalent to about $3200 today) when they earned $13 a month.

The rifles were used for the first time in this battle, by Wilder’s Men.

“The Confederates (from Mississippi) can’t fathom. They think they are being attacked by a cavalry. They have no idea it was Wilder’s forces,” Ranger Christopher Young says.

The Visitors Center at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, the first national military park, and the model for Gettysburg and Vicksburg © 2011 Karen Rubin/

After this battle, the War Department said the soldiers no longer had to purchase them, and would reimburse the 2000 soldiers who had bought them. Only the Union soldiers had the repeating rifle.

The Visitor Center includes various exhibits, an orientation film, a fiber optic battlefield map, a bookstore, and the Claud E. and Zenada O. Fuller Collection of American Military Shoulder Arms

From the Visitors Center, you can take a seven-mile auto tour located in the official park brochure (many people bike the routes, which is at first incongruous, and then you realize that it brings you closer to the site, at the pace and perspective of a bicycle). Additionally, visitors can choose to use the park’s “Dial and Discover” cell phone tour to enhance the experience.

Now we see the site of the second bloodiest battle of the war, after Gettysburg – 36,000 casualties in 2 1/2 days.

Among the dead was Mary Todd Lincoln’s brother-in-law, Ben Hardin Helm; Andrew Jackson Donelson, President Andrew Jackson’s adopted grandson, and Union officer Sidney Coolidge, the Boston-born scientist who discovered the rings of Saturn.

The soldiers died by the thousands and were removed to Confederate or Union burial grounds. But the only soldier still buried on the field is Confederate Private John Ingraham. “In 1866, it was decided to leave him here, where grew up, farmed and played here. He is the only person known to still be here,” Ranger Christopher Young says.

There are other notable figures attached to the battle:

Cannon at Point Park, where Confederates would have fired down on Union troops during the Battle Above the Clouds © 2011 Karen Rubin/

George Henry Thomas, the highest ranking general for the Union, comes from Virginia and inherits two slaves, but stays with the Union. He becomes known as the “Rock of Chickamauga.”

On the other side, Brig. Gen. Archibald Gracie III, a native New Yorker (his grandfather’s mansion is Gracie Mansion, now the home of the mayor) whose family business exported large quantities of cotton from Mobile, Ala., fights for the South.

Ranger Christopher Young points to the irony (one of so many in the Civil War), where you have native Virginian fighting native New Yorker, on opposite sides and opposite from what would expect.

Indeed, 100,000 Southerners fight for North – 30,000 of them from East Tennessee, where Unionist sentiments were strong (Tennessee had initially voted against seceding, but after Fort Sumter, a second vote favored secession).

You had immigrants fighting immigrants – Creoles speaking French, Irish, Hessian “fighting for a way of life they have experienced, for the ‘ideals’ of America,” or because they were drafted. Indeed, 25% of the soldiers in the war were foreign-born.

On the Confederate side, the highest ranking immigrant was an Irish American, Patrick Ronayne Cleburne who rose to the rank of Major General.

On the Federal side, General August Willich had been a military officer in the Prussian Army and a leading early proponent of Communism in Germany. In 1847 he discarded his title of nobility. He later immigrated to the United States and was a member of the Communist party in the US in the 1860s.

Atop the New York memorial, the tallest at Point Park, are figures of North and South soldiers shaking hands in reconciliation © 2011 Karen Rubin/

Captain Eli Lilly was in command (he was a druggist before the war and founds Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company after).

Arthur MacArthur, Jr. awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in the Battle of Missionary Ridge, November 25, 1863, is the father of Douglas MacArthur, awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II.

There were slaves here on the battlefield, as well. Thousands of slaves followed their “masters” into battle. The First Tennessee was known as the “Kid Glove” Regiment, with 50 slaves who attended to the soldiers.

There were 120,000 soldiers pitched in battle on this vast field, right at the doorstep of a farmer. The Snodgrass yard was filled with dead and wounded soldiers, their house used as a hospital. Arms and legs were everywhere.

Once the federal General Rosencrans falls back to Chattanooga, families come back to their farms – the Reeds, the MacDonalds. They find desolation.

When farmers returned two years later and tried to plant, they found so much shrapnel, lead and iron, that they harvested it for the factories for five cents a pound.

General George Thomas opens the Chattanooga National Cemetery-designed to resemble the Federal army shield, this 75-acre cemetery became the final resting place for more than 12,800 soldiers and includes a monument dedicated to Andrews’ Raiders; this monument commemorates a failed Union mission to steel “The General” railroad engine and wreck Confederate railroad lines and bridges-eight of the “raiders,” including civilian leader James Andrews, were executed.

Confederate troops are moved later to a Confederate cemetery

The Confederates victory at Chickamauga in September, though, was the South’s last major victory. In November, the armies met again for control of Chattanooga.

Lookout Mountain & The Battle Above the Clouds

The dramatic view from Rock City on Lookout Mountain, a popular tourist attraction since 1930, but part of the Civil War battlefield in 1863© 2011 Karen Rubin/

After being defeated in the Battle of Chickamauga, the Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, withdrew into the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was besieged by Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. The Federals held a railhead at Bridgeport, Alabama, but because Bragg’s army occupied Lookout Mountain, almost 2000 feet above the Tennessee River Valley. The federals had to bring supplies into the beleaguered city by wagon. Rosecrans had to bring most of his supplies into Chattanooga from Bridgeport along a 60-mile wagon route across Walden’s Ridge. Bragg ordered Wheeler to take the bulk of his cavalry corps and disrupt Rosecrans’s communications across Walden’s Ridge.

However, the Union situation soon became perilous as Bragg’s army besieged the city, threatening to starve the Union forces into surrender (much as Grant had done at Vicksburg six months before). The Confederates established themselves on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, both of which had excellent views of the city, the Tennessee River flowing through the city, and the Union’s supply lines.

Commanding posts at Lookout Mountain, almost 2,000 feet above the Tennessee River Valley, Confederates fired cannonballs down upon the Union troops at Chattanooga. They aimed for river and rail traffic that entered the village with supplies from Union-controlled western Tennessee. Surrounded, with no supply lines, the Union troops seemed destined to fall.

Their fate changed in mid-October with the fresh leadership of Major General George Thomas. Then Major General Joseph Hooker moved into the area with 20,000 Union soldiers. Union General Ulysses S. Grant followed. He ordered Union engineers to construct a pontoon bridge west of town, giving the army access to shipments of food and ammunitions once again. When General Sherman arrived with 17,000 more men in mid-November, the Union Army was ready to fight.

The three-day Battle of Chattanooga is hailed as one of the most dramatic turnabouts in American military history. It began on November 23, 1863.

Lookout Mountain is this massive ridge, half in Tennessee and half in Georgia where we begin our visit at an iconic tourist attraction, Rock City, a popular spot since 1930s. But during the Civil War, it was part of the battle. We drive up the winding road up to an elevation of 2100 ft., the better to appreciate how arduous a battle this was for the troops The magnificent site – where you wander through rock formations, has added an exhibit, an electric map depicting the Battle for Chattanooga.

Next, we visit Point Park, a unit of the Lookout Mountain Battlefield, located on top of the mountain overlooking the Tennessee River, and the most prominent feature in the area.

You enter through a magnificent stone gate, built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1905, which integrated a symbol integrated into the gate.

The historic Chattanooga Choo Choo – come aboard © 2011 Karen Rubin/

We stand on a promontory with a view of the river valley, the locus for the battle dubbed, “The Battle Above the Clouds” because of the thick fog that enveloped the mountain by 3 pm that afternoon. There were 2500 to 3500 Confederates pitched against 8,000 to 12,000 Union troops.

The two sides blazed away blindly in the fog the rest of the afternoon but few men were hit. But the Union prevailed. Realizing the battle was lost, Bragg, who had humiliated Rosecrans at Chickamauga two months before, ordered the position abandoned. At midnight the fog cleared and, under a lunar eclipse, the divisions of Stevenson and Cheatham retreated behind Chattanooga Creek, burning the bridges behind them.

The Union prevails. More than 4,000 Confederates were captured. They were first put in prison that was full, so they were put on a train and sent west to Rocky Island prison camp -many died in a small pox epidemic. In fact, of the 620,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War, more perished because of disease than gunshot.

Bragg’s defeat eliminated the last Confederate control of Tennessee and opened the door to an invasion of the Deep South, leading to Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign of 1864. Eighteen months after Chattanooga, General Robert E Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, and the Civil War is finally ended.

But very soon after the battle, people would come to visit, and soon after the war.

The 3,000 acre Lookout Mountain Battlefield contains monuments, historical markers, trails, and scenic vistas.

The historic Chattanooga Railroad Station, so vital during the Civil War, now the loby of the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel© 2011 Karen Rubin/

Here, there are some incredible monuments and testaments to reconciliation – indeed, Tennessee’s economy prospered after the war, because it was so open to reconciliation. The state was the last to secede and the first to rejoin the Union. throughout the war, there were large pockets of Unionists, particularly in East Tennessee, where Chattanooga is located.

The tallest monument in the park, 95 feet high, is the New York Peace Monument. It shows a Confederate and Federal soldier shaking hands in reconciliation.

There is another New York connection to the park. At the end of the Lookout Mountain trail, which goes to the famous rocky promontory where veterans would return with their families to pose for photos, there is the Ochs Museum, named for New York Times and Chattanooga Times publisher Adolph Ochs, who was from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Ochs was instrumental in getting many of the acres added to the military park. His father was a Union officer but his mother had Confederate sympathies. When Captain Julius Ochs died in Chattanooga in 1888, the Grand Army of the Republic was prominent at his funeral; when his wife died in New York in 1910, a similar part was played by the Daughters of the Confederacy. This ledge, 2100 feet high overlooking the Tennessee River, is the most photographed spot in Civil War – Lyon Photo even opens a photo studio on Lookout Point, Ranger Antoine Heinlein says.

The Visitor Center, located across the street from the Point Park entrance gate, displays artist James Walker’s 13 x 30 foot painting the “Battle of Lookout Mountain.” Self-starting audio visual programs and various other artifacts and exhibits are also located inside the Visitor Center.

Tennessee River Gorge Explorer

It is interesting to look down at the Tennessee River, see the contours and the bend, the high mountains on either side. We had seen the terrain the day before, from the top deck of a high-speed catamaran, the Tennessee River Gorge Explorer, which swiftly and nimbly skidded over the surface so we could best appreciate how this was some of the hardest terrain to fight.

One of the 48 Victorian train cars converted to hotel rooms at the Chattanooga Choo Choo © 2011 Karen Rubin/

The boat ride, operated by the Tennessee Aquarium, is fairly new – from the revitalized riverfront which now provides a path for biking/walking that goes 13 miles along the river. New facilities like the marina, and on the opposite shore, the historic Delta Queen, the paddlewheeler that plied the Mississippi, is now moored and used as a boutique hotel (visitors welcome).

There is a tour guide onboard who gives narration, but this day, we are also joined by National Park Service Civil War historian James Ogden, from the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Battlefield, to relate the story of the battles and point out how they unfolded around us.

Most striking is the difficult terrain – it is two miles to the top of Lookout Mountain, going up a 12 to 14% grade. “Some climbed up and down 12 times over the course of three days.”

The Union army will prevail and Chattanooga never comes close to falling to Confederate hands again Chattanooga becomes the artery for Sherman’s army moving south.

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Considering how critically important the railroad was to Chattanooga, you can’t imagine what a thrill it is to stay in the historic railroad station, and the actual Victorian train cars. You get the absolute best sense of living in history and feel transported in time – not to mention the pure sense of delight – when you stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the historic railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access), furnished with queen-size bed and some have daybed with pull out trundle bed. The train station offers marvelous dining places (including a saloon-style restaurant where the waiters take turns singing), cute shops. You can climb aboard the historic locomotive, and dine in the dining car as well. The original motel offers an indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens. There is even a historic train ride. Also, a free electric shuttle takes you downtown. I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529),

For trip planning, call 800-GO2-TENN or visit For the Tennessee Civil War Heritage Trails, go to You can see maps and have planning tools; there is even a mobile app.

A brochure, “A Path Divided,” is downloadable at

Another source is the Civil War Traveler: Tennessee.

When You Go, So Much to See in Chattanooga

Chattanooga was our first stop on the Tennessee Civil War Heritage Trail, just launched. Tennessee is the only state to be designated by Congress as a National Civil War Heritage Area. Some 200 Civil War trail markers now span Tennessee, at a cost of $1 million (80/20 split with 80% coming from federal government).

But our visit gives us a chance to appreciate how marvelous this revitalized city is and get a taste of its wonderful attractions:

Ruby Falls, actually beneath Lookout Mountain, with its mysterious underground waterfall, is one of the marvelous attractions to visit when you come to Chattanooga © 2011 Karen Rubin/

Tennessee Aquarium-the world’s largest freshwater aquarium follows the journey of a single drop of water flowing from the Appalachian Mountains down the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2005 a $30 million, 60,000 square-foot building was added to continue the story beneath the waves with a saltwater exploration of the unique coral reef systems in the Gulf of Mexico including a replica of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary featuring sharks, barracuda, stingrays and much more. The opening of the Aquarium, triggered the revitalization of the riverfront, with the creation of a lovely RiverWalk, and the revitalization moved up Main Street. The Tennessee Aquarium also operates the new Tennessee River Gorge Explorer high-speed catamaran.

Rock City Gardens-opened in 1932 and advertised on barns and bird houses throughout the South, this must-see piece of American tourism history is located on top of Lookout Mountain and features pathways through massive ancient rock formations, gardens with over 400 native plant species, the gnome-inhabited Fairyland Caverns, and panoramic views of “7 States”.

Bluff View Art District-located on the bluffs above the Tennessee River, this thriving art district is filled with restaurants, gardens, museums, cafés and galleries. With a unique mixture of Southern charm and European flavor, this spot offers an escape within the city.

Hunter Museum of American Art-as part of the 21st Century Waterfront plan completed in 2005, the Hunter underwent a complete renovation including a modern glass and steel 28,000 square-foot of expansion offering more room to showcase its impressive collection of American art from the colonial period to present day, which is hosting a Civil War exhibit Most extraordinary and not to be missed is

Ruby Falls-located deep within the caverns of historic Lookout Mountain, this thundering waterfall is among the highest in the U.S. and a southern tourist tradition since 1929.

Ride the Incline Railway-known as the world’s steepest passenger railway and “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” a short trip to the top of Lookout Mountain culminates in spectacular panoramic views of the valley.

Tour Cherokee Interpretive Center-Red Clay State Historic Park-Red Clay served as the last council grounds and capital (1832-1838) of the Cherokee Nation prior to the tragic Trail of Tears; today this historic site is home to a replicated Cherokee farm and council house as well as an interpretive center and recreational facilities. Then, travel to the small town of Charleston for more of the Cherokee story; once the center of the Cherokee community and the location of the Federal Cherokee Indian Agency from 1820-1833-responsible for providing protection for the Cherokee people-this beloved homeland was later the center of the forced removal known as the Trail of Tears. In addition to a wealth of Cherokee history, we’ll also have the opportunity to visit two Civil War Trail markers.

For trip planning assistance and vacation packages, contact: Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 215 Broad Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402, 423-756-8687, 800-322-3344,

Next: Traveling Tennessee’s Civil War Heritage Trail

See also: Tennessee Commemorates Sesquicentennial with New Civil War Heritage Trail

Tuesday, 31 May, 2011


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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including, Huffington Post and and blogs at "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at 'Like' us at

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