The 2nd bloodiest battle of the Civil War was fought in Georgia 15 miles south of Chattanooga, TN. Only Gettysburg had more casualties. When the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga were fought, the Union had already won at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. The Battle of Chickamauga was the last big Confederate victory.
Ruth and I spent most of a day visiting the Chickamauga Battlefield. The fighting began on September 18, 1863, and ended on the 20th. The siege of Chattanooga began the next month on November 23 and ended on the 25th. Because Lincoln clearly saw the importance of having Chattanooga remain in Union hands, he sent Ulysses Grant to conduct the Battle for Chattanooga. The North won it. William Tecumseh Sherman began his march to the Atlantic through Georgia from Chattanooga beginning in November, 1864. Atlanta was abandoned on September 1st and Sherman burned most of it. The Civil War came to an end 8 months after his march began.
Chattanooga’s population was only 2,500 in 1863, but it was in a strategically important place. Four railroads passed through Chattanooga. Abraham Lincoln understood that holding this town was as important as having control of the Confederate capital, Richmond, which was one of the three Confederate capitals. To control Chattanooga was to dominate Confederate supply lines.
The Confederacy won the Battle of Chickamauga because on the 3rd day a gap in the Union line proved disastrous. It caused the Union army to retreat to Chattanooga and fortify it. Even though they won, The South sustained 18,454 casualties and 2,312 deaths. The North suffered 16,170 casualties and 1,657 deaths.
The Chickamauga Battlefield became the 1st of 8 national military parks. Civil War Veterans got its designation through Congress and held the ceremony creating it on the 32nd anniversary of the battle. 40,000 people attended. This was 26 years before the National Park Service, which now runs both it and the Chattanooga National Military Park (NMP), was established. All 8 National Military Parks are Civil War related.
I don’t usually gush about gun collections, but the Chickamauga Visitor Center has an impressive one thanks to Claud Fuller, who worked in a flour mill and moved on to making bricks. Claud left 346 of his best guns to these military parks. The most interesting one to me was the Spencer rifle. Only 1% of the men in these Civil War battles had them, but they were the latest technology. Spencers, which reminded me of current discussions about guns that fire many rounds, were able to fire up to 14 cartridges per minute. I also liked the film, “Death Knell of the Confederacy” that was playing in the Visitor Center’s theater, and the guided tour of the battlefield with an eloquent ranger named Sarah, who was from Texas.
I’ll close with a little known story I learned at Chickamauga. Mary Todd Lincoln had a half-sister named Emilie Todd Helm. Emilie’s husband joined the Confederate Army. Half way through the Civil War Emilie stayed briefly in the White House with her sister. I wonder how Mr. Lincoln explained this to everyone.