The Battle of Chickamauga, fought about 25 miles south of Chattanooga, Tennessee in north Georgia on September 19th and 20th 1863, was second only to the Battle of Gettysburg in terms of total casualties in a Civil War battle. The victorious Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg, suffered nearly 18,500 casualties, including 2312 killed while the Union Army of the Cumberland under Major General William Rosecrans had 16,170 total casualties including 1657 killed.
The two sides attacked and counterattacked on September 19th; Confederate forces succeeded in pushing back the Federals some distance but Rosecrans’ army was in a good defensive position when the fighting resumed on the 20th. The turning point of the battle occurred when Rosecrans repositioned a division to plug a gap in his line. The move was based on erroneous information, and instead of plugging a gap, one was created when the division pulled out of the line. General James Longstreet’s Corps (on loan from the Army of Northern Virginia) rushed through the gap, routing a large portion of the Federal army and driving it from the field. Major General George H. Thomas was able to form a defensive line on high ground at Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge with the rest of the Union army and covered the retreat, fending off several attacks. Thomas eventually was ordered to retreat. The shattered Army of the Cumberland regrouped at Chattanooga. For more on the Battle of Chickamauga, see my post here.
Bragg began siege operations against Chattanooga, placing artillery and troops on the high ground of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Help was on the way immediately for the besieged Army of the Cumberland. Major General Joseph Hooker was ordered to Chattanooga with the 11th and 12th Corps, detached from the Army of the Potomac. Major General William T. Sherman was sent from Vicksburg, Mississippi with the 15th and part of the 17th Corps. Major General Ulysses S. Grant replaced Rosecrans and assumed overall command.
Grant established a supply line to Chattanooga from Alabama. Resupplied and reinforced, the Federals were ready to attack by late November. Grant attacked Lookout Mountain on November 24th, and Missionary Ridge on November 25th, sweeping the Confederates from both locations and causing them to retreat into Georgia.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
In 1890, Congress authorized the creation of the nation’s first National Military Park, encompassing the Chickamauga and Chattanooga battlefield sites. The park was dedicated in 1895. This and other National Military Parks and battlefields were administered by the War Department until 1933, when they were transferred to the National Park Service.
The entrance to Chickamauga Battlefield is on the southern edge of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The best place to start a tour of the battlefield is at the Visitors Center. The Visitor’s Center features a film about the battle, a bookstore, and some excellent displays. One of the displays is the Claud and Zenada Fuller Collection of American Military Shoulder Arms. This magnificent collection of 346 rifles and muskets has weapons from about the 1600 to the beginning of the 20th century, and all of them are in great condition. A lot of different muskets and rifles were used in the Civil War, from various arms manufacturers, and although I can’t say for sure, this collection appears to have one of every type from every gun maker.
Another noteworthy exhibit is a rare and beautifully restored battery wagon that belonged to the Chicago Board of Trade Battery, one of the Federal artillery units at Chickamauga. The battery had been financed by the Chicago Board of Trade. Battery wagons carried supplies of all types that were needed to maintain artillery.
There is an eight stop driving tour that takes visitors to the major sites within the park. Along the way are some 1400 monuments to various units and individuals on both sides, plus informative metal tablets describing the fighting, troop movements, and actions that occurred at those locations. Most of these were placed by veterans of the battle. Since the park was authorized just 25 years after the war ended, and the rural battlefield had changed little, the veterans were able to accurately place the tablets and monuments.
One monument of interest is at Tour Stop 6. Here, an 85 foot high monument to Colonel John T. Wilder’s brigade of Indiana and Illinois mounted infantry that covered this section of the battlefield. Wilder’s men were armed with seven shot Spencer rifles, and inflicted more damage than a similar sized body of men with single shot muskets. They helped slow the Confederate breakthrough in this part of the field before they withdrew. There are stairs to the top of the Wilder Monument, and climbers are well rewarded with a great view of the battlefield.
Tour Stop 8 is located at Snodgrass Hill, where General Thomas had formed his defensive line after the breakthrough. It was here that Thomas earned his nickname “the Rock of Chickamauga” for his stubborn defense.
The visitor center for the Chattanooga portion of the park is located at Point Park on top of Lookout Mountain. A highlight at this visitor center is the 13 by 30 foot painting of “The Battle of Lookout Mountain” by artist James Walker. The 95 foot tall granite and marble New York Peace Memorial stands in Point Park. There are some great views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River from this vantage point, the same views that Confederate artillerymen had during the siege operations in 1863. Several cannon are placed where Rebel batteries were deployed. Several hiking trails lead to other battlefield points of interest on the mountain.
A site of interest that is reachable via road is the Cravens House. This structure was actually rebuilt after the war ended; during the battle, it served as both a Confederate and Union headquarters.
There aren’t as many monuments in the Chattanooga section of the park as there are at Chickamauga, but several are concentrated around the Craven’s House, including the 50 foot tall Iowa Monument. Off of Lookout Mountain, additional monuments are found along several smaller park sites on Missionary Ridge and at Orchard Knob, site of some fighting on November 23rd. Grant’s headquarters were located at Orchard Knob during the Battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.
For more information, see the National Park Service’s Website for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.