Chickamauga and Chattanooga
Administrative History
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Besides its importance in preserving and interpreting its Civil War battlefields, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park functioned as a training ground for the Army as specified in congressional legislation passed in 1896. As early as 1890 the lands at Glenn and Wilder fields were used for encampments by the Georgia State Militia. [1] Regular Army troops participated in the dedication exercises in 1895, when infantry and artillery units camped in the park for a month. [2] The concept of making the park lands a maneuvering ground for troops seems to have evolved from the earlier stated purpose of utilizing the battlefield as a classroom where the art of strategy and tactics could be studied. Major George W. Davis has been credited with devising the new plan. Representative Charles H. Grosvenor, a park founder and later Commission Chairman, submitted the bill embracing the maneuvers concept, which, as amended, affected not only Chickamauga and Chattanooga, but all national military parks. The rationale was to make all the military park lands available for the use of military students, such as West Point cadets, in helping them to gain familiarity with decisive battles. Similar instruction provided to the various state militias would increase their proficiency and capability of acting in concert with regular forces in an emergency. The bill passed Congress on May 11, 1896, and became law three days later. [3] The "maneuvering" legislation thereafter became interpreted as broadly as possible and caused a multitude of problems as conflicts arose over the initial park purposes of preservation and interpretation. An example was the 1897 stationing there of troops from New Orleans during an outbreak of yellow fever on the Gulf Coast. [4]

Early in 1898, as relations worsened with Spain and the inevitability of war became apparent, the use of the Chickamauga battlefield part of the military park came under consideration. Not only could Chickamauga offer an expansive concentration and training point for troops, the location was ideal in that it lay adjacent to railroad linkage to all parts of the country, especially the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts. By April of that year, largely because of the encouragement of Henry Boynton, the decision had been made, and preparations ensued for the reception of Regular Army troops there. Park officials gave all possible help to the enterprise, providing teams of horses for moving baggage and equipment until the various quartermasters could make arrangements. Park employees also drilled a large number of wells throughout the area for the use of the soldiers. Later, pipes and hydrants were installed while commissary and quartermaster storehouses were erected on park land. [5] Commissioner Boynton arrived from Washington to take charge of the preparations. The first unit to arrive at the park was the all-black Twenty-fifth infantry, which reached Chickamauga April 14 enroute to Florida from Montana. The regiment "will be the first to be sent to Cuba in case of war," reported a Chattanooga paper. [6] On April 21 Major General John R. Brooke arrived to command the new mobilization camp. He established his headquarters at Lytle Hill on April 25, the day war with Spain was declared. [7] More regular forces reached the park within the month, consisting of six more infantry regiments, six of cavalry, and ten batteries of artillery, until the total strength of the regulars reached 7,283. They encamped on the broad grassy fields near Wilder Tower. On April 23 the site was designated Camp George H. Thomas after the Civil War hero who had fought on the ground nearly thirty-five years earlier. [8] In May the first volunteer troops began arriving; their numbers swelled to at least 45,000 by the end of the month. When the regulars left about this time the state troops pitched their tents close together on wooded tracts in the eastern section of the park and used the now vacated fields to conduct their maneuvers. The soldiers from Indiana, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, New York, Montana, and many other states were organized into the First and Third Army Corps commanded, respectively, by Major Generals Brooke and James F. Wade. Many of the troops accompanied Brooke to Porto Rico in July leaving Wade in command at the park. Larger numbers were ordered home in August to be mustered out of service when Spain sued for peace. By September, 1898, only a small detachment remained at Camp George H. Thomas, now under the command of Major General James C. Breckinridge. [9]

The presence of troops at Chickamauga Park constituted the most activity seen there since the Civil War. A contemporary description of the town of Lytle, where the troops arrived, pointed up the massive confusion that typified the first days at Chickamauga Park:

Debarking from the train of the singletrack road which is the only railway connection between Chattanooga and the great camp, the visitor finds himself in the trampling turmoil of "Fake-town," as the boys have dubbed the aggregation of shanties and rude shelters comprising the town of Lytle. Fighting his way out of the crush of hurrying men, shying horses, tangled vehicles, piled-up army stores and shouting vendors, he winds to the top of the low hill beyond "Bloody Pond" and looks back upon the maelstrom which he has just escaped. There are no familiar features in the scene. The sleepy little hamlet has disappeared, and its place has been usurped by a busy railway yard with many tracks, the temporary town, the long lines of one-storied warehouses, huge corrals for stock, and heaped-up mountains of supplies for which there is yet no room in the warehouses. [10]

While Chattanooga benefited from the infusion of money each payday, [11] most of the soldiers' days were occupied by tedious routine and by field maneuvers conducted among the different commands. One such practice, held May 25, was governed by the following instructions:

The division commander directs that your command be in line tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. in the vicinity of its encampments, and that you move at that hour and form for attack so that your extreme right shall rest upon the northern boundary line of this reservation, your line extending in a southerly direction as far as will be necessary. Your object will be to secure the possession of the McFarland Gap road, which is held by a force in the vicinity of Snodgrass Hill. One battalion of your command will be detached to make a demonstration and turn the left flank of the enemy. There will be no firing at closer range than 100 yards and the opposing forces will not approach nearer than 50 yards of each other. Officers will see to it that no ball cartridges are in the hands of the men. [12]

Generally, the camp was warm and dry, and drew frequent compliments from inspecting officers. The water supply was pure and ample for the needs of the men, while the forested tracts provided protection against sunburn. [13] If there existed any overriding discomfiture it was dust; the ground became so dusty from repeated pulverization of the clayey soil that, said one observer, "the encampment can easily be distinguished from Lookout Mountain by a dense, yellow cloud which obscures it during the day. . . ." [14]

Carefully drawn rules prescribed methods of maintaining the healthy environment: water barrels should be covered, food carefully cooked, garbage removed, tents and bedding ventilated each day, and sinks filled daily. As the summer of 1898 wore on, however, complaints of sickness at Camp Thomas grew with frequency. Some of it was attributed to bad food and drink purveyed by hucksters who seemingly roamed through the camp at will selling "slop of every name and every deleterious nature." But much of it stemmed from lax discipline in matters of sanitation at the time Brooke's command left Chickamauga in haste, neglecting to fulfill even the simplest hygienic procedures. [15] In early July an epidemic of typhoid fever struck the camp. Five hundred cases of the disease were reported. Medical facilities and personnel at Camp Thomas were unequal to the situation and many soldiers were taken into private Chattanooga homes for treatment. During the course of the virulence 425 soldiers died at Camp Thomas, more than were killed in combat during the four months' war with Spain. [16]

At first Army authorities believed that poor diet caused the sickness and prohibited all sales of drinks, fruit, and food to the soldiers by merchants. Later inspections, however, showed that the camp water supply was partially polluted. Still further inquiry revealed that some of the state troops had been infected before coming to Chickamauga. In addition to typhoid fever, malaria soon made its appearance. [17] A special board convened to study the problem urged that the troops be removed to more salubrious climates "where proper sanitary measures can be inaugurated and carried out." [18] Uncovered sinks and poor drainage only aggravated the unhealthy conditions and caused a lingering stench to pervade the camp. To make matters worse, the soldiers lacked bathing facilities; those sent to Crawfish Springs to get drinking water drove their teams into the creeks, got out and bathed themselves, then filled their barrels. As the volunteers departed they left their campsites in disarray, with kitchen receptacles and overflowing sinks full of garbage, refuse, and excrement. Animal corrals were left uncleaned. Trash was thrown over the ground without constraint. Sewage from some camp facilities was drained into Chickamauga Creek. The presence of so much litter attracted millions of flies, causing "great annoyance to man and beast," and evidently contributing to the spread of typhoid fever. Sternberg Hospital and Leiter Hospital, consisting of wall tents and wooden barracks to accommodate the volunteer troops, seemingly practiced sanitary procedures in disposing of sewage. There disinfecting plants were established to cleanse soiled clothing, water was sterilized, and floors were scrubbed. Yet illness mounted. "The whole place reeks with foulness," said one reporter in recommending its abandonment. Soon the Army began sending convalescents home on furlough. [19]

Although the tepid, unpalatable water at Camp Thomas was suspected at the time of causing the pervasive sickness, probably the crowded conditions coupled with ignorance of proper sanitation methods was chiefly to blame. One examining board stated that flooring in the tents would have prevented much sickness, and that the soil, as well as the water, was polluted. [20] An Iowa private commented that the water his command had to drink was terrible. "We drink water as yellow as the thickest water in the Missouri," he complained. [21] Some regiments got around the suspected water by purchasing their supply from outside the park. [22]

By the middle of September all units except seven battalions of the Sixth and Eighth U.S. Volunteer Infantrys had departed. More than 72,000 troops had been in the camp. Boynton, who in June had been appointed brigadier general of volunteers, now assumed command of Camp Thomas. He ordered all nonmilitary trading establishments closed, including those along the infamous "Midway." [23]

Following the departure of the troops, Boynton began the rehabilitation of the park. A great many trees had been destroyed. Some were used for firewood, some cut for poles, while others were destroyed by cavalry horses and other livestock that ate the bark. Much damage of this nature occurred east of Lafayette Road opposite Brotherton Field and west of the road all the way to Snodgrass Hill. Extensive damage to trees occurred wherever cavalry and artillery horses were picketed. To reduce the cutting of saplings and trees, the park purchased an adjacent forested lot and made it available for military use. Other problems included the burning of trash which sometimes spread to the trees, and the destruction of the park roads by army vehicles. So real became the threat to park property that in August Boynton issued directives to protect the resources. Most of these rules were ignored. [24] Problems remaining when the troops left had to be dealt with using hired park laborers. More than 3,000 sinks were disinfected and filled, buildings dismantled, refuse burned, ditches obliterated, and manure from the corrals used to check erosion. [25] Resurfacing the roads and removing dead timber continued into the winter. [26] In 1899 the Park Commission gave permission for local civilians to salvage lumber from remaining unused army buildings. More work by park laborers went to replace historical markers broken during the occupation. In all, more than $25,000 was spent refurbishing the battlefields after the Spanish-American War. [27] Wrote Park Engineer Betts: "If the orders (for cleaning up the camp) . . . had been enforced the Government would have saved over $10,000 subsequently expended in cleaning up regimental camps, and the park force an immense amount of most disagreeable work which did not fall within the sphere of their duties." [28] Nevertheless, Boynton could pleasingly report that the military occupation resulted in no permanent damage.

It is a source of satisfaction to the commission to feel that both in its long occupation and in its continuing use for concentrating and storing the surplus supplies from the abandoned camps throughout the South, the park has proved and still is of great practical use to the War Department. . . . The extensive storehouses and repair shops, the wagon sheds, abundant stabling, and corrals of large area, all abundantly supplied with water, with railroad side trackage sufficient for all the requirements of a great post, constitute a plant which will be available as long as the Quartermaster's Department finds use for it, without in any way interfering with the interests of the park. [29]

The occupation of the park by troops during the Spanish-American War led to a long, active military presence in the park over the next fifty years. Almost immediately after the war there were calls for the establishment of a permanent post there. A bill introduced in Congress for that purpose failed in 1899, [30] possibly because of the recent concerns over healthful conditions at the park. In the meantime the quartermaster storehouses erected there continued in use as a field-supply station while the general cleanup of the park proceeded. [31] The matter of a post was revived in 1901 when preliminary examinations of several sites were made in a plan to establish "permanent camp grounds for the instruction of troops of the Regular Army and National Guard. . . ." In February, 1902, an Army board recommended that a site "in the vicinity of Chickamauga Park, Georgia" be selected. [32] During this period the park served as a field camp for units of the Seventh Cavalry and Third Artillery, as well as a transient assembly point for troops arriving home from overseas. In 1902, however, legislation passed Congress authorizing the purchase of some 813 acres outside the northeast corner of the park for a regiment-sized cavalry post. As the military presence grew it caused some concerns for park personnel; cavalry horses occasionally stampeded, posing a "menace to visitors," and target practice by the troops also proved dangerous. Yet the Commission, seeing the accrual of obvious financial benefits from having a military post adjacent to it, actively promoted further enlargement of the park to facilitate artillery and small-arms firing ranges. Construction lasted throughout 1903 and 1904, and in December, 1904, the post was dedicated as Fort Oglethorpe, after Edward Oglethorpe, first governor of Georgia. [33]

With the establishment of Fort Oglethorpe the park entered into an often difficult relationship with the military personnel stationed there. The Army made frequent and increasing use of park lands, so much so that the Commission had to seek the Secretary of War's assistance in protecting the battlefields and their monuments from the damage of gun fire and inadequate policing of littered terrain. Former campsites of Regular Army units had to be restored, and the park authorities also found themselves dealing with drunken, disorderly soldiers who sometimes threatened park property. [34] Some immediate concerns in 1904 and 1905 were the dumping of manure from the cavalry stables in the woods thereby killing many trees, and cluttered campgrounds strewn with trash around the monuments. The Army did help restore Snodgrass and McDonald Fields, filling in eroded washes to use them as drill grounds. [35]

Between July and September, 1906, the park was occupied by 2,000 regular troops. Men of the Twelfth Cavalry, Seventeenth Infantry, Third and Fourth light artillery batteries, a signal corps unit, two companies of engineers and two hospital units conducted large-scale maneuvers with militia infantry brigades that alternated on a weekly basis. The state troops came from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mississippi. Except for a few cases of typhoid, the camp, commanded by Brigadier General John W. Bubb, remained remarkably free of sickness. As one observer described it:

This year the troops have been quartered in the open, and on well drained ground; bedsacks and straw in abundance were provided. There were shower baths in abundance; the lattrines [sic] were boxed in and refuse carried away and buried every day. The kitchens, instead of being placed in the rear of Company quarters, where their accumulation of filth was obscured, and where swarms of flies from the lattrines covered the food in the sweltering sun before it was eaten, were placed between the quarters of the men and the line officer, where a careful watch could be constantly kept, insuring cleanliness at all times. [36]

While this camp was in progress, park crews were still restoring the grounds from the occupation of eight years before. Some of the old quartermaster buildings at Lytle were sold during the year, having been abandoned by the Seventh Cavalry when the regiment moved to Fort Oglethorpe. [37] By then, the post was under consideration for expansion into a brigade-size facility, a status it realized six year later. [38] In 1908 summer maneuvers were once again held in the park, with troops of the Twelfth Cavalry camping on the ridge between Snodgrass Hill and the Viniard House. Field exercises took place on the ground east of Wilder Tower and included participation by southern militia units. Commission Chairman Carman reported that no damage occurred to park property. At the next camp of instruction, held in June and July, 1910, most of the militia soldiers camped on the Fort Oglethorpe reservation, closer to a source of water, thereby saving the expense of running pipelines across the park. Members of the Eleventh Cavalry camped at nearby McDonald Field. [39] After lengthy rains, however, the state units were moved to Snodgrass Hill. [40]

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Last Updated: 01-Jun-2002