Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

The Monument to the Ohio Cavalry
Monument to the Ohio Cavalry

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is a 9,036-acre property composed of several non-contiguous parcels in northwestern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. The battles fought in the area of Chickamauga and Chattanooga during the Chickamauga Campaign of the Civil War were among the largest battles fought in that war. In the end, the casualty count was only superseded by the casualty count at the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle at Chickamauga was the first major battle of the war fought in Georgia and probably the most significant defeat suffered by the Union Army in the Western Theater of the war. The major fighting took place on September 19-20, 1863 and was the end of Union offensives in the area for at least another year. The opponents: Union Major General William Rosecrans and Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

The Union Army had pushed the Confederates out of Chattanooga but came up hard against Confederate lines in the area of Chickamauga Creek. The major Confederate attack began on the morning of September 19 but went nowhere until the next day when Rosecrans was misinformed about a potential gap in his front line. In moving troops to fill that supposed gap, he created a real gap in the line, a gap that allowed eight brigades under Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet to pour throw and drive about one-third of the Union Army (including General Rosecrans himself) from the field.

Union troops spontaneously rallied and fell back to form a defensive line on Horseshoe Ridge that held while Union General George H. Thomas assumed command of the Union forces. The Confederates kept throwing determined attacks against the Union lines but they held in place until twilight ended the shooting. At that point, the Union forces retreated to Chattanooga while the Confederates occupied the hills around the town.

The Brotherton Cabin
Brotherton Cabin

Shortly after the Chickamauga Campaign shooting stopped, the Chattanooga Campaign began. General Rosecrans was replaced by Major General Ulysses S. Grant and with new reinforcements, Grant faced off against Confederate General Braxton Bragg several times during the fall of 1863. On November 23, the opening skirmish at Missionary Ridge was a successful (but small) surprise attack against Bragg's forces. The next day, Union troops under Major General Joseph Hooker defeated the Confederates in the Battle of Lookout Mountain. Then when Grant ordered the troops at Missionary Ridge to advance to the foot of the ridge, the orders were misunderstood and resulted in Union soldiers swarming to the top of the ridge, routing the Army of Tennessee and causing them to retreat to Dalton, Georgia. That Confederate loss closed the door on Confederate control in any part of Tennessee and opened the door to Sherman's advance on Atlanta in 1864, followed by the long march and scorched Earth campaign known as "Sherman's March to the Sea."

Today, military students study the landscape and the maneuvers of the different armies and their units as one of the classic examples of an army using the landscape as a tool in the fight. Another field of study involves how miscommunications and misunderstandings on both sides affected the eventual outcome of the war. At the same time, certain opportunities were squandered because one commanding officer or another was well behind his troops to enjoy a chef-cooked meal when those opportunities presented themselves. Many little things added up to big mistakes... and larger numbers of casualties.

The Cravens House on Lookout Mountain
The Cravens House on Lookout Mountain

The loss of the Chattanooga Campaign was the death knell of the Confederacy. Generals on both sides had ignored direct commands of their commanding officers and were relieved of all duty in the aftermath. General Bragg himself was replaced by General Hardee, then by General Joseph E. Johnston at the end of December, 1863. Union General Grant had won his last battle as commander of the Western Front and shortly assumed command of all Union armies. General William Tecumseh Sherman was left in command of the Union Army in Chattanooga and that led directly to his march to the sea that effectively cut the Confederacy in half in 1864.

All units of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park are open from 6 am to sunset, year round. The Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm, every day of the year except Christmas and New Year's Days. The Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm, every day of the year except Christmas and New Year's Days. During the summer season (Memorial Day to late August), the historic Cravens House on Lookout Mountain is open for tours between 1 pm and 4:30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Fees: there are no entry fees charged for Chickamauga Battlefield or for Cravens House while Point Park on Lookout Mountain charges $3 (price subject to change) per adult age 16 and up, younger get in free. The park offers a seven-mile auto tour route plus historical tablets, monuments, equine trails and almost 50 miles of hiking trails. There are several developed picnic areas, too, but as this is a National Military Park and it serves to commemorate some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War, recreational activities on the property are fittingly somewhat subdued.

The Mocassin Bend National Archaeological District is located across the Tennessee River from Lookout Mountain Battlefield and offers a three-mile loop trail for hikers. The parking area for that trailhead is off Mocassin Bend Road in Chattanooga. As Mocassin Bend was only recently added to the National Military Park, it doesn't have any other amenities on the property.

Horseshoe Ridge
Horseshoe Ridge

Upper photo courtesy of Wikipedia userid Lhughesw5, CCA-by-SA 3.0 License
Upper left photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Other photos are in the public domain