At a time when many Civil War battlefields and even national parks are squeezed by outside development, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is growing.
Park officials and the Trust for Public Land received federal support to purchase 382 acres in March to add to the western flank of the Lookout Mountain Battlefield.
“It is important to recognize that land associated with battlefields is really threatened, mostly due to encroachment and development,” Park Superintendent Shawn Benge said. “If you think about the percentage of land that is out there where these battles occurred, it is really, really a small amount of property, but it is very valuable.”
A desire to protect the land where thousands died was what led to establishment of the nation’s first and largest national military park at Chickamauga and Chattanooga in the 1890s.
The park’s new land flanks the Wauhatchie area in Lookout Valley west of Lookout Mountain and up to the western bank of Lookout Creek. It reaches almost to the CSX rail lines on the floor of the valley and stretches south to the Georgia line.
On Monday, officials will gather at Point Park to celebrate the latest park purchase with a ceremony that will include a walking tour of part of the area where the fabled Civil War “Battle Above the Clouds” was fought.
Officials have worked on this latest addition to the park since 2006, said Rick Wood of the Trust for Public Land. The land was bought in three parcels from CSX Railroad Co., and the entire deal was completed on March 31, he said.
Mr. Wood said teamwork was essential to the acquisition of the land, including federal support rallied by U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga, and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
“Those relationships are critical to making these kinds of transactions happen,” Mr. Wood said. “We are delighted to have played a part of knitting together these historic lands.”
The property was acquired with $4.8 million in congressional appropriations over three years, Mr. Benge said, but it provides priceless opportunities to preserve the past, especially since the Chickamauga Battlefield unit cannot expand.
The 382 acres come on top of the addition of Moccasin Bend to the park’s property, which became official when President Bush signed legislation in 2003.
history OF LAND
The new property was crossed by 3,600 Union troops on Nov. 24, 1863, before they forded Lookout Creek and worked their way up Lookout Mountain to help drive Confederate troops off their perch above Chattanooga and the Tennessee River, park historian Jim Ogden said.
Mr. Ogden said Union Gen. Joseph Hooker knew Confederate positions were too strong for a direct assault across the creek, so he sent some troops south. Gen. John White Geary’s division of 3,600 took that task, moving south to a place to cross the creek, then attacking Confederate troops from the side and rear, Mr. Ogden said. Eventually, Confederate soldiers were forced to give up the most important part of the mountain.
“It was a blow in the physical sense that the mountain sat astride the most important road routes into Chattanooga,” Mr. Ogden said.
The victory allowed Union troops to prepare for the next day’s assault on Missionary Ridge and started a series of critical setbacks for the South.
significance OF PURCHASE
As well as gaining land to buffer against the push of development, the new acquisition will help tell a more complete history of the area and events, said Kay Parish, executive director of Friends of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Rep. Wamp, who lives in the Lookout Valley area, said preserving the land helps excite and educate young people about the nation’s history.
“It really engages the next generation in who we are as a people, and that determines the path you take in the future,” he said.
Preservation and conservation also are a tourism draw for Tennessee and a boost to the economy, Rep. Wamp said.
The land also is part of Cherokee history. And Rep. Wamp, who said he has some Cherokee ancestry, said he feels a special connection to the Lookout Valley land.
“When I’m at home and I see the sun set across the valley, I know that this is the same sun, the same sky, the same mountain, the same streams, the same watershed that these people lived on,” he said. “It is a supernatural kind of feeling and, as a result, I’m motivated constantly to do my part to extend this posterity, to extend this incredible history to the next generation.”
BATTLES FOR CHATTANOOGA
* After defeat at Chickamauga, Ga., on Sept. 20, 1863, Union troops retreated to Chattanooga. Confederate forces pursued and occupied Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Chattanooga Valley.
* Artillery placed on high ground helped Confederates lay siege to Chattanooga and choke off Union Gen. William Rosecrans’ forces.
* Union reinforcements came with Gen. William T. Sherman and Gen. Joseph Hooker. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assumed command.
* On Nov. 23, 1863, Gen. George “Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas’ troops took Orchard Knob.
* Nov. 24: Fog covered Lookout Mountain as Gen. Hooker’s troops advanced toward the western slope. Gen. John Geary’s division crossed Lookout Creek at a point included in the new park land. Union troops took the mountain in the “Battle Above the Clouds.”
* Nov. 25: Gen. Thomas’ troops moved from Orchard Knob to the base of Missionary Ridge. Then, without orders, they charged up the slope and routed Gen. Braxton Bragg’s forces.
* Nov. 25-26: Under cover of darkness, Confederate troops retreated into Georgia.
* Aug. 19, 1890: President Benjamin Harrison signed a bill establishing Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
* Sept. 18-20, 1895: The park was dedicated.
* 1905: Point Park was built to commemorate the Battle Above the Clouds.
Source: National Park Service