The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, is a place everyone should visit. What is so inspiring about this national park? I’ll attempt to explain.
Well before the formation of our National Park System in 1916, the park was established by the U. S. Congress in 1890. It was dedicated jointly by Union and Confederate veterans in 1895. I find it inspiring that men who fought against each other only 32 years earlier would gather to build memorials to those who died there.
The Battle of Chickamauga was fought September 18-20, 1863, not long after the Battle of Gettysburg in July of that year. With over 34,000 dead or wounded, it was second only to Gettysburg in casualties.
The Confederates won the battle, but the “Rock of Chickamauga,” Union General George Thomas, held firm, thus receiving his nickname. Our town was named for him, and we often pass the historic marker titled “The Rock of Chickamauga” that gives highlights of his life and his position in the battle.
The Union fought to keep Chattanooga, at that time a small town of only 2500. Though small, it was pivotal to supplying Sherman in his “March to the Sea.” They secured it by November.
The peaceful park and serene Chickamauga Creek are in dramatic contrast to the bloody battle that was fought there that fall. Surely before the battle it was as tranquil as it is now; we watched hay being baled on the rolling field. I could imagine haystacks there in 1863.
The movie that explains the strategies and battles of September 18-20, 1863, is heart-wrenching. Civil War battle enactors played their parts well; running through the forest, shooting and getting shot, bleeding into the autumn earth, leaving the field and woods littered with dead and wounded soldiers.
The movie features a Confederate and a Union soldier, each leaving a wife and children to go to a war they did not want to fight. Each went to support his country and not out of any anger against the other. Part of the narrative is based on letters the men wrote home–very touching. Their deaths affected me as the death of someone I knew and loved.
705 monuments and markers are spread across the park. It’s fascinating to drive or walk through the park, read the markers, and see how the remaining veterans honored their fellow soldiers. The first markers were put up in 1894.
I look back over what I’ve written and I see that words can’t express the combination of angst and pride I felt at this battlefield.
And with the recent conflicts over the “Confederate flag,” I saw not one flag of that design in the movie or displayed in the galleries of the visitor center. This park is about unity and supporting each other as Americans with no room for divisiveness.
I applaud the 1890 Congress and those valiant veterans from both North and South who returned to honor their dead.