Chickamauga and Chattanooga
Administrative History
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Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park commemorates the several Civil War battles fought in the area of northwest Georgia and southeast Tennessee during September and November, 1863. The park comprises two primary land tracts, Chickamauga Battlefield and Lookout Mountain, as well as a number of smaller areas around the city of Chattanooga, notably Signal Point, Orchard Knob, and those along the crest of Missionary Ridge. Established in 1890, the park was administered by the War Department until 1933, when it was transferred to the National Park Service. Total expanse of the diverse holdings is approximately 8,095 acres.

The component units of the park variously straddle the Georgia-Tennessee boundary, with administrative offices in the town of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The setting of the park is one of great natural beauty in the Appalachian chain. Geographically, the region forms part of the rugged Cumberland Mountain range of the Southern Blue Ridge, jutting in a southwest-to-northwest diagonal through Georgia, Tennessee, northwestern South Carolina, and western North Carolina. Topographically, the land is a complexly faulted escarpment of broad valleys and coves broken by sharply-rising mountainous ridges interspersed with streams. These landforms make up the divide between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Through its existence the country has been a haven for settlement both by aboriginal populations and by later dwellers of European descent.

The Appalachian Blue Ridge is broken by numerous upland tributaries of the primary watershed, the Tennessee River, which flows east-to-west past Chattanooga, then trends southwest into Alabama. Geologically, the land area of Chickamauga Battlefield rests on a 450-million-year-old horizontally-stratified deposit some 500 to 700 feet thick called Bangor limestone and composed of fossilized marine organisms. The sedimentary rock dates from Cambrian and Paleozoic times and its resistance to erosion differs widely. Nearby Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge also consist of limestone topped with variously-eroded sandstone and colored shale. An ancient uplift, together with twenty million years of erosion, have contributed to expose parts of the underlying limestone in prominent folds termed anticlines and synclines. Local soils directly reflect the long periods of erosional action in the higher elevations, with young alluvials found on the lower slope and in the valleys, and more mature soils evident in the highlands. Depending on the precise locale, rainfall varies from 38 to 72 inches per year. Growing potential has been high both historically and contemporaneously, especially among the alluvial deposits; both aboriginal and historical occupancy of the region owes its longevity to success in soil cultivation. Heavily forested throughout its past, the park today harbors oak, chestnut, and pine, among other types of trees. The ground is thickly covered with varieties of shrub and herb plants. [1]

Several Indian groups inhabited the country now composing Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Two small tribes were the Koasati and Tuskegee, both of which included this region of the Cumberland Mountains as part of their traditional domain. The former group settled for many years along the Tennessee River and were probably visited by Spanish explorers in 1567. When English and French settlement began in the region almost two centuries later, the Koasati were still present. A Muskogean people who lived in towns, hunted, and raised corn, some eventually migrated south while others joined the Creek Indians and moved west when France ceded her lands to Great Britain in 1763. The country immediately surrounding the later site of Chattanooga was occupied by a band of Tuskegee Indians, another Muskogean group that made the east Tennessee River region their home. Of like cultural and physical attributes, this group of Tuskegees most probably was absorbed into the predominant tribe of the region, the Cherokees. The Cherokees were Iroquoian-speaking people belonging to the Siouan language stock. Those who lived in the vicinity of the Tennessee River belonged to the Upper, or Overhill, settlements, as opposed to those Cherokees of slightly different dialectical groups farther north and east. The Cherokees hunted the lands, supplementing their diet by growing corn. They were renowned warriors and often traveled far afield to participate in warfare. Cherokee tribesmen came to play a major role in the early Indian-white regional trade. [2]

White expansion into the Tennessee-Georgia hinterland grew rapidly following the War of 1812. An influx of farmers who took up lands formerly held by Indians settled along the Tennessee River down into Alabama to raise corn, cotton, and other profitable crops. During the 1820s and 1830s the immigration continued amid a boom period for farm products, and during Andrew Jackson's presidency the removal of the eastern Indians opened yet more land for development. Chattanooga and Atlanta were founded and in a matter of a few years became cities of vast commercial influence. By 1860 and the coming of the Civil War, Chattanooga, despite a population of only 2,500, had developed into the principal Southern rail center with lines radiating in all directions.

With the outbreak of the war, Union strategists quickly recognized the importance of controlling east Tennessee with its pro-Union population as well as its numerous railroads. The Confederacy depended on the lines to transport troops and supplies, principally between east and west, and was thus determined to prevent the capture of Chattanooga by northern troops. Early in 1863 a thrust towards the city by Major General William S. Rosecrans caused a large Confederate force under General Braxton Bragg to withdraw from Murfreesboro and take up a defensive position between Rosecrans and Chattanooga. After considerable delay, Rosecrans advanced, forcing the Confederates into the city. He then passed around their left flank to turn on their rear. Between August 29 and September 4, Rosecrans skillfully executed a number of maneuvers in getting his force across the Tennessee River and below Bragg's army. Believing the Confederate commander was in retreat, Rosecrans divided his army into three parts spread over a forty-mile-long front well beyond supporting distance of each other. Rosecrans' army advanced steadily from the southwest, parts of it crossing Lookout Mountain in its progress.

In the meantime, Bragg cooly assembled his forces and brought in reinforcements from Virginia and Mississippi, planning to turn the left of the Union force and reoccupy Chattanooga. As Rosecrans attempted to reunite his command, Bragg's army positioned itself along the east side of the west fork of Chickamauga Creek and on September 18 began moving across the stream. Union cavalry and infantry on Rosecrans's left resisted the advance at Reed's and Alexander's bridges, but during the night many of the Confederates crossed the stream. On the 19th the two armies confronted each other west of Chickamauga Creek. Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland consisted of the Fourteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-First Army Corps, plus the Reserve Corps and the Cavalry Corps, for a total of 58,000 men. Under Bragg were five infantry corps and two cavalry corps numbering some 66,000 men.

The main fighting began accidentally, when a reconnoitering force of Union infantrymen confronted some Confederate cavalrymen near Reed's Bridge. The Union troops drove the cavalry back, but only temporarily; shortly reinforced, the Southeners soon prevailed. Gradually the fighting spread south, all along the line for three miles or more. The battle became general, with nearly all units on either side engaged, but by day's end the outcome remained undecided. Rosecrans did, however, control the road leading into Chattanooga.

During the night the armies shifted units about in preparation for resumption of the conflict. Next morning a part of Bragg's army forced the Union left into withdrawal, but soon fell back upon themselves under stiff fire. For a time there was little change. Then, about midday, Rosecrans, on the basis of what proved to be faulty intelligence, ordered a major shift in his divisions, inadvertently opening a gap in his line. Almost immediately four Confederate divisions under Lieutenant General James B. Longstreet thundered into the break, driving many of the Union troops before them, causing consternation throughout Rosecrans's army, and routing several divisions on the Union right into fleeing northwest. Rosecrans and several of his commanders were forced to abandon the field, leaving only Major General George H. Thomas to command what Union troops remained.

With vigor and determination, Thomas took charge of the situation. He formed a line at right angles to the Union left, at a place called Snodgrass Hill, and, amply reinforced, successfully withstood the repeated assaults of Longstreet's divisions. Later, on Rosecrans's order, Thomas withdrew to stronger positions at Rossville and Missionary Ridge, where he remained through the following day bothered little by the Confederates. In the meantime, the disarrayed forces of Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland were reconstituted. Union losses in the two days' fighting at Chickamauga totaled 16,170 killed, wounded, and missing while the Confederate Army of Tennessee lost 18,454 killed, wounded, and missing.

Bragg was slow to follow up his success. By the time he did, the Union troops had withdrawn into Chattanooga. The Confederates invested the city, determined to starve Rosecrans into submission rather than face further losses by a direct attack on his command. To that end, Bragg's army took up position on all the surrounding roads and high ground, including Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. The Federal soldiers suffered greatly; in time rations grew low and many men were reduced to eating grain reserved for the livestock. By October, however, relief troops were on the way, some 37,000 soldiers commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker, and others coming under Major General William T. Sherman. Major General Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of the Military Division of the Mississippi and replaced Rosecrans as Commander of the Army of the Cumberland with General George H. Thomas. In late October, Grant succeeded in opening a shorter supply route across the Tennessee River at Brown's Ferry while Hooker's command drove the Confederates from Lookout Valley; both movements insured accessibility into the city for supply trains. With Union strength now exceeding the Confederate, Grant proposed to break Bragg's grip on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

On November 23 Grant directed four divisions under Thomas to strike at Orchard Knob, a Confederate-held position about a mile west of Missionary Ridge. Thomas's command quickly succeeded in clearing Orchard Knob and installed a gun battery at the location while the Confederates withdrew to their main line of resistance on Missionary Ridge. That night General Sherman began moving his troops forward to attack the Confederates on the north end of the ridge, and by late afternoon the following day he had driven Bragg's force across a broad ravine to a place called Tunnel Hill. Next morning to the west General Hooker with three divisions started his operations against the Confederate stronghold on Lookout Mountain. At 8 a.m. his troops surged up the rugged and heavily-forested cliffs. At Cravens farmhouse the Confederates fiercely resisted the advance until a heavy fog made both sides halt their fighting. That night the Confederates withdrew to support the main command on Missionary Ridge.

The final battle for Chattanooga occurred next day, the 25th. On Grant's orders, Sherman pushed his command forward at daybreak. But the Confederates held their ground on Tunnel Hill. With Hooker's arrival delayed, Grant directed Thomas to attack the Confederate center on Missionary Ridge, an area secured by numerous entrenchments and felled logs. Thomas sent four divisions against the Confederate works and, though encountering much initial resistance, pressed diligently ahead and drove the Southern soldiers from their defenses. The Union troops mounted the ridge in rapid pursuit and smashed into Bragg's position, sending his men into wild retreat, while soldiers under Major General Philip H. Sheridan raced after the stricken force capturing men, artillery, and supplies. On the Confederate right, the troops formerly so resistant to Sherman's attack withdrew after dark to join Bragg. The Confederate commander eluded pursuit by Sherman, Hooker, and Thomas and managed a clean withdrawal. In the Chattanooga campaign Union losses stood at 5,824 (killed, wounded, and missing), compared to Confederate casualties of 6,667. Significantly, Grant's bold offensive broke the siege, cemented Federal control over Chattanooga, and paved the way for Sherman's march through Georgia the next year. As such, the combined fighting at Chickamauga and Chattanooga constituted some of the bloodiest and most strategically important encounters of the Civil War. [3]

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Last Updated: 01-Jun-2002