Sunday was an unseasonably warm day and after a long, dreary winter, it felt good to go and take a walk in the woods.
The new National Archaeological Moccasin Bend Park offered a hike with Chickamauga National Battlefield's Park Ranger and Historian, Jim Ogden, who told us about the Civil War battles that were fought from this point and how the heavy bombardments changed the course for Chattanooga and ultimately the whole war.
This is one part in the Park's rich history which includes over 10,000 years of Native American heritage from the Paleo-indian Period to the Trail of Tears. Over the next year, I will share those tours with everybody.
Chattanooga, Tennessee is located at the state line of Georgia and Tennessee. It was the site of many Civil War battles, both sides viewed it as strategically important to their cause. In the summer of 1863, the Confederates were in retreat from losses suffered in middle Tennessee at Stone's River and the Battle of Tullahoma, and ended up in Chattanooga. Union General Rosencrans was under orders from President Lincoln to take the city. In a series of outmaneuvers, General Rosencrans forced General Braxton Bragg to leave the city and head down into northern Georgia.
General Bragg ended up in Lafayette, Georgia (about 25 miles south of Chattanooga). Eventually, the two forces clashed on September 19th and 20th at the Battle of Chickamauga. Chickamauga is a Cherokee name meaning "River of Death" and in this case, the place lived up to its name. Over 34,000 casualties were suffered by both sides. It was the second costliest battle of all time in U.S. History. Gettysburg ranks first.
The Union lost this costly battle, and they were forced to retreat 12 miles back to Chattanooga. Rosencranz was relieved of duty and Thomas replaced him as head of Army of the Cumberland. Major General Ulysses Grant would become General of it.
The Confederacy would occupy the surrounding outskirts of Chattanooga, which included Lookout Mountain on the west and Missionary Ridge on the south side. This presented problems for the North, as Bruce Catton wrote in The Civil War:
The Union army could not even retreat. (No army under Thomas was likely to retreat, but physical inability to get out of a trap is a handicap any way you look at it.) As far as Bragg could see, he need only keep his army in position for a month or longer and the Unionists would have to give up.The Union Officers knew supplies and reinforcements were on the way,but underestimated the time for relief. It was thought backup would show up within a week or two, instead it would be late October before the Cracker Line would open and late November before the siege of Chattanooga would end. Park Historian, Jim Ogden, noted a million pounds of grain were needed every day for the rations between the soldiers and the horses. Horses were given 25 pounds a day, soldiers 3 pounds. With no supplies coming in for weeks rations would be cut, cut, cut to almost nothing.
In a letter to his sister, Private George M. Kirkpatrick described the conditions of Chattanooga in early November:
"I take this opportunity to write you to let you know that I am still alive, but that is about all, for we get nothing to eat worth mentioning. I have got down so weak that I can't do my duty anymore, and the horses and mules are dying off at the rate of two hundred a day. The rations I drew today were one cracker and a half, one half spoonful of coffee, and a little piece of meat for two days. That was all I got and I could sit down and eat all of it and not have half enough."Echoes of Battle- The Struggle for Chattanooga
About 20 miles west (as a crow flies) from Chattanooga is Bridgeport, Alabama. This was the main supply line into Chattanooga for artillery and food for the Union army. The way to Bridgeport was a road along the base of Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River. The Confederates controlled the access, so it was vital to open up the "Cracker Line" as soon as possible. The Feds were encamped directly across the Tennessee River on the hills of Moccasin Bend known as Stringer's Ridge. The earth works are well preserved because little development took place in this pristine area.
Ohio's 18th and Indiana's 10th Infantry would occupy the hill in front of Lookout Mountain and constantly bombard the Confederacy.
Ohio's 18th Infantry positioned their Napoleon cannons here.
View of Lookout Mountain in the distance from the earthworks of Ohio's 18th.
Indiana's 10th Infantry was positioned along the southern side of this hill facing west towards Lookout. Their positions allowed them to view downtown Chattanooga, Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. The Union army was relatively safe. Once in a while a projectile would be lobbed into their area, but most were misses. The Union had superior artillery compared to the CSA. The shots that were fired by the CSA were of little use for that range. Some never made it others never exploded. On a few occasions, the Indiana troops would collect the CSA projectiles and put their Union fuses into them, and send them back over to the Rebs.
The Union Army had a strong advantage in terms of amount and quality of artillery. Their projectile fuses lasted longer and were far superior to the Confederacy's. Although, the Confederates were at a higher point on Lookout, it was a difficult shot. Also, the range for their fuses was around 7 seconds. Ten seconds were needed just to cross the Tennessee River, so a number of their projectiles landed on their side.
Park Ranger Jim Ogden holding a projectile. In the center would be steel balls and pellets.
Jim told about a soldier in Bridgeport, who dropped a case of these projectiles. The projectiles exploded killing many, but the noise could be heard all the way into Chattanooga. This worried the Union men for they believed the Confederates had attacked Bridgeport. It would take a whole day before the Generals learned the true story of what happened. Many soldiers were killed and injured, but also nearby ammunition exploded, too.
10th Indiana's strategic position provided back up when 1500 Union soldiers floated on pontoons down the Tennessee River in the middle of the night to take back an important access point known as Brown's Ferry. The Union captured it in late October and opened up a route for food and supplies.
Indiana and Ohio batteries near continuous bombardment of Lookout Mountain devastated Craven's House and almost killed General Braxton Bragg. A month after the Cracker Line was opened up, the Battles of Orchard Knob, Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain were won by the Union. This laid the way for General William Tecumseh Sherman to head down to Atlanta, then eastward toward the ocean. These battles were instrumental in ending the Civil War sooner, rather than later.
If you are ever in Chattanooga, I strongly urge everyone to visit the new National Moccasin Bend Park. This is just one fraction of what the park has to offer. It is rich in Cherokee and Native American history, this will be featured over the summer.