Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Another Day Trip - Chickamauga.
...The horse snorted and strained against the reins as the young man led the frightened animal through the thick undergrowth of an old wood forest. Even though the leaves were turning and the air was crisp with the promise of fall, sweat ran down the man's back, creating an itch that he couldn't scratch, didn't dare scratch. His free hand clutched a rifle tightly while his eyes moved restlessly over the woods ahead, searching for the enemy. It was September 19, 1863, and he was in Georgia, a long way from Chambers County, Alabama, near a little creek called Chickamauga. Little did he know but he was about to be involved in the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War...
That's how I see the beginning of the battle at Chickamauga: a young man, my ancestor, afraid and a long way from home, facing an enemy he couldn't see and not knowing whether he would live to see the next day. On one of my infamous day trips to local attractions, my husband, my sister and I went to the Chickamauga National Military Park near Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. It's just off I-24 near Chattanooga, about two hours from my home. You need to plan a full day to even cover the high points of this five thousand acre park.
As you enter the park the first thing you see is a lovely old home made of limestone. This is the visitor's center and it is a very necessary stop. Inside, a movie introduces you to the two-day battle and its participants. Once you've seen it, I would suggest that you go across the hall to the museum. There are many interesting displays there but the one I loved the most was the huge collection of guns. These were all used in the battle and I was impressed at the magnitude of the collection - it must be worth a small fortune! (I know, grubby but those guns are in perfect shape and priceless.$$$)
After leaving the museum we stopped at the gift shop. It was full of books and maps - things which spoke to my book-lover heart. After talking to the shop volunteer about the best way to see the park, we settled on a book with a two-CD set by TravelBrains. The CDs, inserted in your car player, take you through the park, beginning with the start of the battle on September 19th at Reed's Bridge Road and ending at the final battle on Snodgrass Hill on September 20th. It does not follow the route the National Park sends you on but rather goes the route the soldiers followed, allowing you to get a better understanding of how the battle progressed. As I said before the battle took place over five thousand acres and a series of battlefields, nine in all. It's hard to understand the tactics and how it happened unless you take it in the order of the battle. Wear good shoes and carry a cooler - there are no convenience stores and the only bathroom is back at the visitor's center.
Although I find tactics and maneuvers of each army fascinating, I will not bore you with that information. According to Wikipedia, the Battle of Chickamauga marked the end of the Union offensive into Tennessee and northwestern Georgia. It was a resounding defeat for the Union. The Army of the Cumberland (Union) was commanded by Major General William Rosecrans. The Army of Tennessee (Confederates), commanded by Braxton Bragg, had one interesting officer, Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest and one calvary private under Forrest who was interesting to me - Cornelius Lafayette Cox, my great, great-grandfather. Private Cox was a member of Hilliard's Legion, an Alabama calvary unit which he joined in Montgomery at the ripe age of seventeen in December of 1862 according to Alabama muster documents. I believe he was actually sixteen at the time and had turned seventeen when Chickamauga took place.
As we wandered across the park, I stared at the thick undergrowth of some of the battlefields and wondered how teenagers, like Cornelius, had the courage to fight under such conditions. They fought in thick woods, filled with brambles and briars. The soldiers couldn't see past ten feet in front of them. Smoke and noise from cannons and gunfire confused them. No one really knew where he was going except maybe the standard bearer. I learned in most Civil War battles that this was the case - the soldiers on both sides simply followed their unit standard with no clue as to their direction or purpose in a battle. The standard bearer was always the target of the other side because it would create more confusion (My sister and I, being the smart-a***s we are, jokingly said "I don't want it, you take it." "NO I don't want it - You take it." Believe me, I wouldn't have taken the standard. I wouldn't have wanted that bulls-eye on my forehead). I also learned that calvary units did not fight on horseback. The men would dismount and fight. In most cases the calvary was used for reconnaissance and raiding. No glorious calvary charges like in the movies.
At Brock Field, we wandered across the open battlefield which had been a cornfield at the time of the battle. The Union and Confederates faced off less than a hundred yards from each other, a closeness which shocked me. These soldiers stood in regimented lines for two hours, firing at each other without pause. I cannot fathom the bravery of both sides to simply stand there and face gunfire while your comrades fell on each side of you.
My husband took this picture of me from where the Union forces were at Brock field. I was standing where the Confederate lines were placed. So you see, the distance wasn't that great.
Meet Private Miller who was shot between the eyes at Brock Field (notice the hole between his eyes). He took a lead ball and buck shot to the face but survived. His left eye dangling, he tried to put it back in. According to him, a Confederate who took pity on him, pointed him in the direction of his Yankee unit. He made it back to his unit and lived till old age (with a glass eye) as you can see from his picture. I just found this amazing.
After going through the entire battlefield, I wanted to see where Cornelius spent his time under Forrest. Looking at the Alabama units, we found where Hilliard's Legion was located and we headed to the spot. Throughout the park there are beautiful monuments placed by Northern and Southern units to commemorate their comrades.
I thought this one was particularly beautiful. The relief was made by Gorham (of silver fame).
At the area where Hilliard's Legion was located there stood a tall monument to the Alabama soldiers who fought and died there. My sister and I approached it and stood where our great, great grandfather had camped before the battle.
I felt for the young boy who must have been terrified but was committed to a cause. I believe he had more courage than I could ever have.
My sister and me at the monument. It appeared to be made of marble, probably from Sylacauga - such beautiful white marble.
For those of you who are of the Northern persuasion (my husband is a Yank), I am not arguing the right or the wrong of the Civil War by discussing this battle. It happened and is an integral part of my heritage. I cannot forget my ancestors who fought (I have others who fought at Gettysburg, Antietam and Fredericksburg). They joined the Confederacy and fought - as simple as that. I wanted to know about them, where they were and what they did. I am a part of them and, as their descendant, I owe them respect. I also want to learn the history of these battles. After all, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Twenty-seven thousand men died at Chickamauga - they all deserve to be remembered. They had families and descendants and would want it that way, regardless of which side they fought on.
Do you have any interesting sites I can visit? Tell me. I am sure my hubby would welcome them (battlefields can be boring to SOME people). Do you have any ancestors who fought in the Civil War? Tell me about them and the battles they fought in. I am currently on a crusade to visit all the battlefields my ancestors fought in so I might could look them up for you. Thanks for plowing through this - I know, except for me and Stephanie it is probably boring!