Since we visited the Stones River National Battlefield a few weeks ago, we decided we would continue the path of American Civil War history and make our way down to the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. This park encompasses a huge area sitting right on the border of Tennessee and Georgia and commemorates the two key battles that were fought in these areas known as the Battle of Chickamauga and the Siege of Chattanooga. This was the first, and largest, of four national military parks to be created.
After the Union had won the battle at Stones River the Confederacy relocated to Chattanooga. The Union continued to make their way south, intent on pushing back the Confederates and making their way to the Southern capital of Atlanta. The Army of the Cumberland gathered the forces in the southern part of Tennessee and the northern part of Georgia pushing out the Confederate Army of Tennessee from Chattanooga. But in September of 1863, the two armies would collide again just past Chattanooga in Chickamauga. This was the first major battle to be fought in Georgia and would prove to be a significant defeat to the Union army.
Defeated, the Union army retreated back to Chattanooga where the Confederacy surrounded them and cut off all supplies to the army. Over the next few months this area was the center of hundreds of small battles and strategic maneuvers between the two armies as they tried to move their position past Chattanooga. Finally near the end of November, the Union claimed victory over Chattanooga and the Confederates moved back to Georgia. Chattanooga was the last significant control of Tennessee and with the victory of the Union it opened the way to move through the rest of the south.
We started at the visitor center where we watched a 25 minute movie giving the background to the battles commemorated here at the park. The movie shows some graphic reenactments of the battles and the strategic methods that were used on both sides. The Civil War is such a controversial topic these days. There seems to be this desire of making it all cut and dry down the lines of good and evil. But the truth is the war was far more complicated and there were good and bad actions, good and bad motives, good and bad people on both sides of the conflict. We tend to gloss over those parts though because it is easier to make heroes and villains out of people instead of really understanding both sides.
The park is massive and while the battlefield in Murfreesboro is left to be wild, this park is maintained enough to allow visitors miles of walking, biking, and horse riding through the park. Throughout the park are hundreds of relic artillery cannons giving a powerful reminder of the horrors that this area saw.
But even more moving are the hundreds of monuments, statues, and markers honoring different brigades and infantries of troops from the different corners of the country. Some of these markers in the fields while others are almost hidden by the dense trees around it. But the heartbreaking reality of war is apparent with all these monuments throughout the park that were dedicated in loving memory to those who went to war with their countrymen and never came home.
We had a thoughtful and humbling walk through the park on a perfectly lovely Southern day. Living here on a forefront of Civil War history makes me realize how little I actually know about this major national event and I find I am determined to learn more about both sides so I can really understand what this conflict meant to us as a people and as a country.