Georgia: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The largest and most visited national battlefield park in the United States. It was the site of two bloody Civil War battles that took place between September and November, 1863. Covering over eight thousand acres and with six hundred monuments and over seven hundred cast-iron plaques which describe the courses of the battles, the park attracts almost one million visitors per year.

Site Office

Superintendent

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

P.O. Box 2128

Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742

ph.: (706) 866-9241

fax: (423) 752-5215

Web site: www.nps.gov/chch/

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought on September 19 and 20, 1863. It was the culmination of a campaign begun four months earlier. On May 23, 1863, General William Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, began his invasion of Tennessee with a complex plan that completely confused the Confederate commander, General Braxton Bragg. Forcing Bragg to evacuate his prepared defenses along the Duck River and occupying Manchester, Tennessee, Rosecrans’s army pushed south. Bragg’s attempt to establish a defensive line at Tullahoma was also thwarted by Rosecrans’s adroit maneuvers.

Failing to halt Rosecrans at Tullahoma, Bragg fell back to a strong defensive position at Chattanooga, intending to defend the city from the mountains surrounding it. Outmaneuvering Bragg, Rosecrans crossed the Tennessee River on pontoons near Bridgeport, twenty-five miles west of Chattanooga. In danger of being cut off from his supply lines running from Lafayette, Georgia, Bragg evacuated Chattanooga without a fight on September 8, 1863. In less than three months, Rosecrans had led the Army of the Cumberland over three mountain ranges and took one of the major cities of the Confederacy without fighting a battle.

Hoping to trap part of Bragg’s force south of Chattanooga, Rosecrans divided his army. As the three corps of the Army of the Cumberland advanced into the wooded, mountainous terrain, they became separated. Seeing an opportunity to defeat the Union forces in detail, Bragg pretended to continue his retreat while consolidating his army near Lafayette, Georgia. At the same time, reinforcements were being rushed to support him (two divisions from the Mississippi department and General James Longstreet’s corps from Virginia).

Ordering Generals D. H. Hill and Thomas Hindman to attack part of General George Henry Thomas’s Fourteenth Corps at McLemore’s Cove, Bragg hoped to turn the tide of the campaign. Slow to move and overcautious, the Confederate commanders allowed the Union units to escape. Warned, the already cautious Thomas began to consolidate his forces. Frustrated, yet still hopeful of victory, Bragg ordered a general attack on the dispersed Union forces on September 18.

The Battle of Chickamauga

Striking the Union forces at Reed’s Bridge, General Bushrod Johnson’s division spearheaded the attacks, but due to the confusion of the battle lines and the slowness of supporting forces, they quickly fell behind schedule. Bragg renewed the attack on September 19, attempting to flank the Union left. Anticipating Bragg’s strategy, Rosecrans sent Thomas’s corps to reinforce General Thomas L. Crittenden’s Tenth Corps. As the day progressed, more and more units were thrown into the battle. Fighting continued until nightfall, when both sides began to dig in and prepare defensive positions.

While Bragg divided his command into two wings (General Leonidas Polk was placed in command of the right, and General Longstreet, who arrived at the battlefield at midnight, was to command the left) and ordered an attack to begin at dawn, the Union commanders met at Rosecrans’s headquarters and prepared their defense. Concerned about the confusion in the battle lines, Thomas repeatedly warned of the possibility of gaps in the Union line and requested reinforcements. Thomas’s Fourteenth Corps was protecting the only road capable of carrying the Union forces back to Chattanooga.

The Confederate attack was late on September 20–Polk had not been given written orders by Bragg and was slow in getting his units organized. As a result, his initial attacks were unsuccessful, but there were heavy casualties on both sides. At 11:00 a.m., as a result of a misunderstanding, General Thomas Wood was ordered to move his division to the left to cover a gap in the Union lines that was not there. As he was moving his unit out of the line, Longstreet launched his attack. Sweeping into the gap, the Confederates broke the Union line. The entire right flank (the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps), along with Rosecrans and his headquarters, fled back to Chattanooga.

General George Henry Thomas, having been reinforced earlier in the day, was able to hold the high ground in Snodgrass Hill until nightfall. Thomas’s gallant stand, earning him the title “The Rock of Chickamauga,” allowed the Union army to retreat back to Chattanooga. It was a stunning victory for the Confederacy.

The Battle of Chattanooga

Rather than following up his victory quickly, Bragg opted to besiege Chattanooga, allowing the North time to collect reinforcements. Rosecrans was relieved of command and replaced by General Ulysses S. Grant, who immediately ordered General William Tecumseh Sherman to move his army east from the Mississippi. At the same time, General Joseph Hooker’s corps was transferred from the East. Twenty-six thousand men and all their equipment were moved twelve hundred miles in nine days by rail to reinforce Grant.

Reestablishing his supply lines with what he called the “Cracker Line” and reorganizing his army, Grant was soon ready to break out of the siege. Meanwhile, Bragg spent his time drawing up charges against his willful subordinates and allowing Longstreet’s corps to be sent to Knoxville, Tennessee.

On November 24, 1863, Grant ordered Hooker to assault Lookout Mountain and Sherman to flank the Confederate position on Missionary Ridge. Hooker was successful, forcing the Confederates to evacuate their positions on Lookout Mountain, but Sherman’s attack was stalled. The next day, hoping to relieve the pressure on Sherman, Grant ordered Thomas to attack the Confederate positions at the base of Missionary Ridge. Coming under heavy fire, the Union troops continued up the ridge. There were only three Confederate divisions covering a four-mile front. The Union attack was successful, breaking the thinly held Confederate lines in several places. Only the stubborn resistance of General “Pat” Cleburne’s division saved the Confederate army from destruction. The siege of Chattanooga was broken, the Confederate army was shattered and in retreat, and Ulysses Grant was promoted to the command of the Union army.

The Establishment of the Park

The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Battlefield Park was the result of a series of newspaper articles that appeared in the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette in 1888 that suggested that the battlefield at Chickamauga be preserved like many of the Eastern battlefields. When the society of the Army of the Cumberland had its annual meeting, it created a committee to begin the process of purchasing the land where the Battle of Chickamauga was fought in order to create a memorial similar to the one at Gettysburg.

The first meeting of the committee was on February 13, 1889, and it was agreed that Confederate veterans of the battle would be invited to join what became the Joint Chickamauga Memorial Association. The stated objective of this group was “to mark and preserve the battlefield of Chickamauga.” On September 19, 1889, the twenty-sixth anniversary of the battle, a joint meeting of the Union and Confederate veterans of the battle took place in Chattanooga to discuss the creation of the park. It was one of the largest barbeques ever held in the South. Over twelve thousand people attended, and a charter was drafted to create the park.

Seen as a gesture of reconciliation, the legislation to create the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was passed by Congress without opposition. (It took only twenty-three minutes in the House and twenty minutes in the Senate.) The land for the park, with additional sites on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, was acquired at a cost of $400,000. Veterans of the battles visited the battlefield and designated where the markers were to be placed. Because the Southern states, in the aftermath of the Civil War, could not afford to erect many monuments, most of the monuments on the battlefield commemorate Northern units. The state of Ohio appropriated ninety thousand dollars, and other Northern states spent almost as much. The Second Minnesota Regiment has four monuments in the park.

The park was officially dedicated on September 18-20, 1899. Ten thousand Northern veterans attended, and seventy special trains were used to bring visitors to Chattanooga. Vice President Adlai Stevenson made the opening remarks on September 19 after a forty-four-cannon salute. The ceremonies ended with a parade of the veterans.

To celebrate the park’s one hundredth anniversary in 1989, Friends of the Park raised three million dollars to upgrade the facilities there. The additions were completed in August of 1990.

Places to Visit

The visitors’ center at the Chickamauga Battlefield Park sits on the site of the McDonald family’s log cabin. Built in 1935 and renovated in 1990, it provides an impressive twenty-four-minute multimedia presentation of the battle. The visitors’ center also houses the Claude E. and Zenada O. Fuller Collection of American Military Shoulder Arms. One of the most extensive collections of its kind, it contains weapons dating from the colonial period of American history to World War I. Located at the main entrance, there is also a display of the different cannons used in the battle.

The battlefield is clearly marked with cast-iron plaques (blue for the Union and red for the Confederacy) that provide essential information about the battle and the various sites for visitors. A replica of the Brotherton Cabin stands where the Confederates, led by General Longstreet, broke through the Union lines. Wilder’s Tower, which stands on the site of the Widow Glenn’s home (which served as Rosecrans’s headquarters during the battle), provides a panoramic view of the battlefield. It was dedicated in 1899 by veterans of John Thomas Wilder’s brigade, who raised the money for its construction. (After the war, Wilder, who commanded a Union cavalry brigade at Chickamauga, moved to Chattanooga, started a business, and entered politics. He was elected mayor.) Snodgrass Hill, where General Thomas was able to hold back the Confederate attack, is located at the end of the driving tour of the battlefield.

Along Crest Road off Highway 27 there is a series of small enclaves (reservations), which commemorate the Battle of Missionary Ridge. The Bragg Reservation provides an excellent view of one of the places where the Union army broke through the Confederate lines on Missionary Ridge. Other points of interest include the Ohio, Turchin, Delong, and Sherman Reservations.

The most impressive view of the Chattanooga Battlefield can be seen from Point Park on Lookout Mountain. The visitors’ center at Point Park provides a slide show, and next door, in the Lookout Mountain Museum, is a life-size diorama depicting the history of the area. There is also a large collection of Civil War weapons on display. Other sites of interest include the rebuilt and restored Cravens House, which served as the Confederate headquarters during the siege, and the Ochs Museum, which was opened on November 12, 1940, and contains exhibits that describe the battle for Chattanooga. Also on Lookout Mountain are three of the most impressive tourist attractions in the South–Ruby Falls, Rock City, and Cavern Castle.

A small outlying area of the park is the Signal Point Reservation, which overlooks the Tennessee River opposite Raccoon Mountain. It was the site of one of a series of signal stations set up by the Army of the Cumberland during the siege to maintain communication with their supply base in Bridgeport, Tennessee.

For Further Information
  • Connelly, Thomas L. Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971. Provides an excellent overview of the campaign and an understanding of the individuals involved.
  • Cozzens, Peter. This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992. Provides an excellent in-depth narrative of the fighting at Chickamauga.
  • Downey, Fairfax. Storming the Gateway: Chattanooga, 1863. New York: David McKay Co., 1960. Well written and filled with interesting stories.
  • McDonough, James. Chattanooga–A Death Grip on the Confederacy. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984. Probably the best overall study of the battle of Chattanooga.
  • Miles, Jim. Paths to Glory: A History and Tour Guide of the Stone’s River, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville Campaigns. Nashville, Tenn.: Ruthedge Hill Press, 1991. Presents an excellent guide for anyone seeking to follow the course of the campaign and battle. Maps, directions, and mileage, as well as details of all the major tour sites, are included. Contains forty-two maps and about one hundred illustrations.
  • Robertson, William G., et al. Staff Ride Handbook for the Battle of Chickamauga: 18-20 September 1863. Fort Leavenworth, Kans.: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1992. Although prepared for army officers, it is the best guide to the Chickamauga Battlefield.
  • Tucker, Glenn. Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1961. A lively but somewhat outdated study of the battle, it is still worth reading.
  • Woodworth, Steven E. Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Presents the best overall study of the campaign to date.
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