Battlefield Visits: Chickamauga / Chattanooga

From my travels, January 29, 2005.

Chattanooga Campaign – Civil War Battlefield #11
First Battle of Chattanooga – Civil War Battlefield #12
Second Battle of Chattanooga – Civil War Battlefield #13
Battle of Chickamauga – Civil War Battlefield #14

It’s hard to believe that it has been over 20 years since I visited my first battlefields in the western theatre, and it all happened somewhat accidentally.

A few friends and I had planned a trip to see Dave Brubeck perform in Knoxville, TN – I had been a fan of his music since high school, and the chance to see him live was too much to pass up. One of my close friends grew up just outside Knoxville, so the plan was to stay with his parents, see some sights, and go to the show. It turned out to be a really great trip – and yes Brubeck was incredible.

One of the things that my friend wanted to do while we were down south was to drive down to Huntsville, AL to visit the US Space and Rocket Center. I had never been, and I have always enjoyed the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, so I agreed – mainly because they have a Saturn V rocket, and I had never seen one in person.

I wasn’t nearly as much of a Civil War nerd at the time as I am now. Living in the Baltimore area all my life, I had been to the major NPS sites that my family knew about that were close to home: Gettysburg, Manassas, Antietam, and Harper’s Ferry. We had also taken a few road trips when I was a kid to places like Hampton Roads and Charleston. I had been to a total of 10 battlefields so far, and had very happy memories of tramping around Gettysburg, but at that point in my life, I didn’t really understand the full scope of the war, let alone the idea that there were battles that happened that didn’t become national parks later.

I took only one photo on that first trip to Chickamauga - I was so confused by what that acorn was all about! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I took only one photo on that first trip to Chickamauga – I was so confused by what that acorn was all about! – Photo by the author

For whatever reason, though, I noticed that our route was going to take us past Chattanooga, and I was able to convince my friends to take the long way through town to be able visit Chickamauga. I drove past Missionary Ridge and saw the prominence of Lookout Mountain for the first time. When we finally got to Chickamauga, we didn’t stop at the visitors center. We didn’t do the actual driving tour. I had NO idea about how the battle was fought, or the personalities involved. I was, frankly, a little lost. I only knew the broad strokes of Gettysburg and that was it as far as Civil War knowledge went for me at the time. In fact, I would say that I didn’t really learn anything during our brief drive-through tour of Chickamauga, but it was still my first time in Chattanooga, and I still count these as my first visits to these fields, because they did begin to open my eyes to the idea of just how much I didn’t yet know.

I’ve since been able to return to Chattanooga three times – even bringing my family along, too. The stories of those trips are coming soon. Through the Internet, I’ve been able to discover so many books and resources to learn more about the conflicts that happened there, and I now consider Chickmauga to be my second-favorite battlefield, right behind Gettysburg. Those mountains and valleys straddling the TN / GA border will always hold special memories for me.

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