|James Walker's "The Battle of Lookout Mountain"|
President Lincoln believed that taking Chattanooga was as important as taking Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Located on the banks of the Tennessee River at the intersection of four railway lines, power over Chattanooga would cripple Confederate supply lines and possibly win the war. However, after General Rosecrans outmaneuvered General Braxton and his Confederate troops for control of the city, he made the mistake of pursuing retreating soldiers into Georgia where he met intense resistance and suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of Chickamauga, culminating in his abandonment of his troops and being replaced with General Thomas. Nevertheless, the last four months of 1863 and the events that unfolded in Chattanooga have been referred to as “the Death Knell of the Confederacy,” ending with Chattanooga under Union control and transformed into a supply and communications base for General Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign.
During the Battle of Chickamauga September 18-20, Union troops were forced to retreat into Chattanooga where they remained under siege for one month until General Grant and reinforcements arrived. At the end of November thousands of Union soldiers marched out of the city, overrunning Orchard Knob and setting their sights on Missionary Ridge. To distract the Confederates from their intentions they launched an attack on Lookout Mountain, known as the “Battle Above the Clouds” because of the fog that cloaked the mountain, and the next day Union troops broke through Confederate defenses on Missionary Ridge - forcing the Confederates to retreat south into Georgia.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is the first and largest military park in the US. Dedicated in 1895, it has two main sections covering the Lookout Mountain Battlefield & the Chickamauga Battlefield, and additional, smaller parcels including Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, the Chattanooga National Cemetery and Orchard Knob.
We visited the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center first, exploring the events of September 1863 through exhibits and film. The boys picked up a Junior Ranger booklet and then we headed on the self-guided auto tour, a seven-mile loop including eight major points of interest and dozens of monuments and memorials. We parked near Snodgrass Hill, the site of the Union last stand before retreating to Chattanooga, where we hiked out to the South Carolina Monument.
The following morning we retraced our steps from the previous day’s visit to Ruby Falls, continuing up Lookout Mountain to Point Park, part of Lookout Mountain Battlefield. There is an entrance fee to enter the park, although it is significantly lower than the other Lookout Mountain attractions. We parked next to the Visitor Center and entered through Point Park Gate, built by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Working our way around the East side we marveled at the views of the Tennessee River Valley and Chattanooga.
|Point Park's gate is a replica of the Army Corps of Engineers insignia|
At the center of the park is the New York Peace Monument, symbolizing reunification and reconciliation with the Union and Confederate soldier shaking hands at the pinnacle (the Monument is emblematically made of Tennessee marble and Massachusetts pink granite).
From the Batteries we continued down the stairs to reach the Ochs Memorials Observatory, where even more spectacular views of the river and Moccasin Bend awaited us. Named for the snake-like curves in the river, the National Archeological District has a 3-mile hiking loop with more services planned. The area has a tragic history; traversed by the Cherokee on their Trail of Tears in 1838, the territory was home to several tribes far before they first encountered the Spanish three centuries ago.
From the Observatory trails depart to Craven’s House and other scenic and historically important points within the National Military Park, but we headed back up towards the Visitor Center. With an extra day or two we might have visited a few of the seven sections on Missionary Ridge set aside to commemorate the battle, but we only had the two days in Chattanooga. I do believe we hit the highlights, and I would suggest a visit to the National Battlefield to anyone visiting the area; between the historical significance of the battlefield, the grandiose views from atop Lookout Mountain and the diverse landscape of the battlefields, there was something for everyone in our group. We left with a new understanding of this portion of the Civil War, an up-close look at one of the most interesting geological formations of the region, and memories of time spent together as a family exploring America’s history.