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Chickamauga Campaign:
Then and Now

Article and Photos by Kathleen Walls


The History

Union re-enacters mann their canons. 
On September 19 -20, 1863, Union Army of the Cumberland  under Major General William Rosecrans suffered a major defeat to the Confederate army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Chickamauga. The battle marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia called the Chickamauga Campaign.

This article will deal with the historical facts of this battle and the upcoming reenactment set for  September 2013. For the dedicated Civil War buff or the casual traveler, there will be so much to see and do in this area in  September, 2013.  I'll try and give you a little glimpse of both history and "must go" destinations.

Rosecrans was exalted from his easy victory at Chattanooga. He sent a telegram to Halleck, his commander,, "Chattanooga is ours without a struggle and East Tennessee is free."  Rosecrans pushed  into  Georgia  believing Bragg's troops were demoralized and fleeing back into Georgia and deserting in large numbers.

McLemore's Cove, still much the same as it looked in 1863
Bragg fostered this belief by having some of him men pose as deserters and offer Rosecrans the bait.

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, Rosecrans second in command, urged caution but Rosecrans ignored the advice. He sent Colonel Edward McCook's cavalry across Lookout Mountain at Winston's Gap to attack Resaca and cut Bragg's supply line. Crittenden was to return to Chattanooga and then turn south to pursuit Bragg. Thomas was told to advance toward LaFayette by way of McLemore's Cove and Dug Gap in Pigeon Mountain. Skirmishing began in earnest when Thomas's men reached the cove on September 10 and 11. Had Bragg's men pushed hard they would have had an easy victory but there was squabbling and disunity among his subordinate generals.

Crittenden's corps were headed for Lee and Gordon's Mill. Bragg ordered Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk to attack Crittenden's lead division. Once again Bragg's orders were ignored. His abrasive personality and reputation as a strict disciplinarian did not make him popular. By the time Bragg arrived on the scene and found out what had happened,  Crittenden's corps had passed by and concentrated at Lee and Gordon's Mill. The mill had served as Bragg's headquarters on September 9-10 until he moved his headquarters south to LaFayette where he used Chattooga Academy as headquarters . Union troops occupied Lee and Gordon Mill and surrounding area the night of the 10th.

The Snodgrass Cabin located in the NMP served as a hospital for
both sides during the battle. The area around the cabin saw heavy
fighting. The family took refuge in a nearby ravine.
With Thomas' divisions' forced retreat,  Rosecrans realized he had narrowly escaped a Confederate trap and  abandoned his plans for a pursuit.  On September 12 he ordered McCook and the cavalry to join with Thomas' troops and  then continue northeast to link up with Crittenden. However' Rosecrans' message to McCook was delayed and did not reach McCook until the 13th and his route required three days of marching  back  over Lookout Mountain.

For the next four days, both armies maneuvered to improve their positions. Rosecrans concentrated his forces in preparation for a withdrawal to Chattanooga.

Bragg fearing that Rosecrans again planed an attack decided his best  option was an offensive to drive the Union forces back to Chattanooga.

Bragg decided to move his army northward on the morning of September 18 toward Chattanooga, forcing Rosecrans's army to either fight or withdraw. He believed Rosecrans could be driven back into McLemore's Cove. The Confederate plan was to get behind the Federal left flank at Lee and Gordon's Mill and then cross West Chickamauga Creek.

Confedeate re-enactors prepare to fire 
September 19. Bragg's Confederates  attempted  to force their way past Union forces but could not break the Union line. They continued the next day again without success until  late morning. Then one of those coincidences occurred that make or break a battle and sometimes  a war. One of his couriers misinformed  Rosecrans that he had left a gap in his line. He acted on the information and immediately sent men to close the supposed gap. In fact, there was no gap but the men he pulled out to fill the fictitious gap, accidentally created an actual gap. Rosecrans could not have pulled men from a worse position. The gap he created lay right in the path of Lieutenant General Longstreet at the head of eight-brigades of determined Confederates. Longstreet saw his chance and went for it guns blazing. The assault worked this time.  Longstreet's men drove one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. Union units spontaneously rallied to create a defensive line on Horseshoe Ridge, forming a new right wing for the line of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, who assumed overall command of remaining forces. Although the Confederates launched costly and determined assaults, Thomas and his men held until twilight. Union forces then retired to Chattanooga while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights,

Gordon-Lee Mansion 
The Chickamauga campaign involved the second highest number of casualties in the war following the Battle of Gettysburg. The Lee Gordon Mansion, the only remaining structure from the Battle of Chickamauga, was used as Rosecrans' headquarter.  It was also used  as a hospital and according to Richard Barclift, general manager of the mansion,  the limbs were piled as high as the second story windows. The town was originally named Crawfish Springs for the spring located just yards from the mansion. The abundance of water played a part in the choice of the mansion for both headquarters and the hospital.

The battle was named for Chickamauga Creek, which meanders near the battle area in northwest Georgia and flows into the Tennessee River about 3.5 miles northeast of downtown Chattanooga. According to some translations of the Cherokee language, it means "River of Death." On these few days in September 1863, it was just that. 

 Places to Visit .      
This site has Chattanooga
locations near the
reenactment site.

Days Inn Lookout Mountain West - Chattanooga, TN, US

For this year's Sesquicentennial, almost all of the places involved in the Chickamauga Campaign are pulling out all the stops to provide a wonderful and enlightening visit. One of the biggest events is the re-enactment of the Battle of Chickamauga being held at Mountain Cove Farm in McLemore's Cove. This event is expected to draw over 10,000 re-enactors and will be the largest reenactment this year. Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn said, During those four days, this  will be the biggest city in Walker County,"


Mountain Cove Farm's Show Barn, Interior and exterior. 

The cove,  formed by the intersection of Lookout and Pigeon Mountains, was described by former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue's office as being "one of the most scenic locations in Georgia" where the Lookout Mountain escarpment drops more than 1,000 feet to the valley floor.

Re-enacters prepare to fire 
This historic spot was doomed to be subdivided until Walker County Sole Commissioner, Bebe Heiskell convinced Governor Perdue that the state should partner with Walker County and acquire this land to protect it.  Heiskell is very much a "hands on" commissioner. She is personally working to make sure the historic building are done correctly.

It  was the site of some of the earlier skirmishes on the actual battle. McLemore Cove is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Walker County has been  busy restoring the historic structures in the cove. The Show Barn will be the site of the Reenactment Ball on Sept. 21. Imagine this historic structure lighted to simulate a 19th century barn and filled with gallant gentlemen and hoop-skirted ladies performing period dances to the melodies of period instruments.  From the front of the barn grounds you will see much of the reenactment area.

The Manor House 
Another of the cove's historic structures that will play a huge part in the reenactment as well as being a big future draw for tourism into the cove is the Manor House. This1835 limestone mansion was  built by William Daugherty, a wealthy lawyer from Athens, Ga., who purchased the entire cove area  in the Georgia Land Lottery  of the seized  Cherokee land.

The Manor House will double for the Gordon Lee Mansion during the reenactment but is currently available for meetings and events. The county is putting a restaurant and pub in it also. In addition to these buildings the county also owns seven cabins once used by farm workers that are being restored as very nice rentals,  and "The Lodge," also known as the "Cove House," a newer home that sleeps 16 in five bedrooms and has four full baths.

The Visitors Center at Chickamauga & Chattanooga NMP 
The real battle scene is now Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. Although National Parks do not allow actual reenactment battles to be held on the grounds, they are offering a variety of events related to this campaign. On  September 18, 19, & 20, park historians and rangers will lead a series of "real time" walks covering the same ground soldiers fought upon in 1863. On the weekends prior and after there will also be period costumed historians portraying real life persons from that time. There are many other activities at the park commemorating the events during Sesquicentennial Years

The park is open throughout the year during daylight hours. The visitors center is open 8:30 to  5 EST. The park shows a wonderful orientation film called "The Campaign for Chattanooga: Death Knell of the Confederacy." It is a good overview and a great place to start your tour.

The Georgia Monument and the Wilder Tower at Chickamauga & Chattanooga NMP 

Nearby, the Gordon-Lee Mansion is another significant place to visit. The new history theater located in a restored log cabin to the left of the Mansion. offers a free continuously running DVD Tuesday  thru Saturday 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM on the history of the area, the Mansion itself and its grounds. Tours of the Mansion are offered in the summer on Saturday. On Saturday Sept 21, an Arts Festival and a Blue and Gray Barbeque Barbecue Contest will be held on the front lawn area of the Mansion.

The City of Chickamauga is having two festivals that weekend: Yesterday Festival and War Between the States Day.  There will be Living History Demonstrations, Parades, and Arts & Crafts. Throughout  the day re-enactors will  demonstrating refugee camp life, artillery firing, soldier camp life and period food.  Refugee camps will represent life for area farm families affected by the battle.  Another local site you want to visit here is Lee and Gordon's Mill, occupied by both sides during the skirmishing.

On the Saturday of the Festivals, trains from Chattanooga will unload passengers at the Chickamauga Depot for visitors based in Chattanooga.

Chattogga Academy 
In downtown LaFayette, you can visit the site of Braxton Bragg's headquarters at the Chattooga Academy also known as John B. Gordon Hall. It was Bragg's home base from September 10 to 17th and it is reported that he planned the campaign sitting under a big oak in the front yard. The oak, known from that time on as Bragg's Oak,  was destroyed during a storm in the 1920s.

The Academy also saw action during the Battle of Layfatte  June 24, 1864. Confederate Capt. William V. Harrell using the building to store supplies while attacked Union troops. It is Georgia's oldest remaining brick schoolhouse.

You can tour on Sundays from 1-3 p.m and  most days Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Just across  Joe Stock Memorial Park from the Academy, Marsh House is another interesting stop for any Civil War buff. It was built by Spenser Marsh in 1836. During the war, the Marsh family relocated to Cassville, Georgia. When they returned after the war, they found that the house had been occupied by Union soldiers who rode the horses through the rooms and left bullet holes in the walls and blood stains on the pine floors. When the Marshes repaired the home, they left several of the bullet holes. Perhaps it was a reminder of how swiftly life could be turned around. Since the home was in the Marsh family for 150 years, much of the furniture is original to the home.

Marsh House 
Mary Smitherman, with the Marsh House Task Force that maintains and operates the house, believes the hoses were probable stabled then as they were so valuable. She is proud to show off the "Certified Haunted" plaque from GHOST (Ghosts and History of Southeast Tennessee) investigators.  "I was concerned about compromising the integrity of the house. but we agreed. I was here with them. We never let anyone in without one of us being here. They put cameras everywhere They found a lot of activity in the children's rooms and  in the attic and servants quarters. The group was very professional," She also commented the 'haunted' appellation had increased interest in the old home."

GHOST has completed about 50 investigations, and the Marsh House is just the fifth one to receive the  haunted certification.

The house is open for tours Thursday, Saturday  & Sunday 1:30 p.m. - 3:30  p.m.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the sites that are connected to the  Chickamauga Campaign.


For More info:

GA Civil War Site:

Mountain Cove Farm:

Chickamauga & Chattanooga MMP:

City of Chickamauga:

Chattooga Academy:

 Marsh House:

Lee and Gordon Mills:

Gorson Lee Mansion:


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