In September of 1889, ten thousand Union and Confederate veterans descended on Chickamauga Battlefield. This time, they came not as enemies, but as reunited countrymen. This Blue and Gray BBQ, as it was called, sparked the idea to create a national park.
In 1890, the battlefields of Chickamauga and Chattanooga became the nation’s first official military park. President Bejnamin Harrison signed the designation into law on August 19 – five years before a similar status was conferred on Gettysburg and 26 years before the establishment of the National Park Service.
Civil War veterans, led by Henry Van Ness Boynton, and Ferdinand Van Der Veer, had spearheaded the legislation through Congress. Inspired by fervent patriotism and a desire for commemoration, the bill exemplified the theme of reunion between white veterans from both north and south. At least seven veterans of Chickamauga served in Congress and voted for the passage of the legislation.
A park commission was quickly organized, including representatives from both armies. Their task was to create a park that would tell the story of the campaign for Chattanooga while giving equal attention to both Union and Confederate stories. To accomplish this, the park commission erected hundreds of cast iron tablets around the park, marking the locations of soldiers during the battles. Additionally, veterans groups began to raise money, and with support from the park commission, erected monuments throughout the battlefield.
In 1895, veterans returned once again for the formal park dedication. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was the nation’s first national military park. Its creation and operation established a precedent for establishing and managing historic sites throughout the nation.
For much of its early history, the park was administered by the War Department. During the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II, the army used the park as a training facility for thousands of soldiers. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order transferring management of the park from the War Department to the National Park Service.
In 2003, Congress expanded the park by creating Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, for the purpose of preserving and interpreting the complex and layered history of human activity on this peninsula in Chattanooga.