Utterly fascinating historical guest post by Deb Hunter
Emerging Civil War is pleased to welcome guest author Hunter S. Jones
Although I’d visited the Chickamauga Park my entire life, I knew next to nothing about the actual battle. When I started this journey, I had no idea what a corps was or a brigade, even though I have an undergrad degree in History. I learned enough to get me through the war eras, pass the exams and write the papers, and move to the parts of history I enjoy: the fashion stories, the love stories, the epidemics. There’s nothing like a plague to capture one’s imagination and change the course of world history. The further I ventured into the study of the Battle of Chickamauga, the more intriguing it became. This wasn’t about Union and Confederate Armies; these are the stories of 150,000 American soldiers. Chickamauga is the saga of broken hearts and shattered dreams which happened on the dates of September 18-20, 1863.
There is a very good reason Chickamauga became the first Civil War National Park, with the bill passing through Congress in 25 minutes. Imagine a bill making it through the U.S. Congress that quickly today. I intended to write about one aspect of the battle itself, but that will be for another article because I want to focus on some of the human elements I discovered while researching at Chickamauga Park.
Being so hands-on I had to get into the park and find out as much information as possible about how the soldiers lived at that time; what they ate, how they bathed, the textiles they wore. With so much of the Civil War activity occurring in the southeast Tennessee and north Georgia area, I have been fortunate enough to be invited onto private property in order to discuss what people had found, one item being the top of an exploded three-part projectile used by the Union troops found in a creek at Anderson Mill, Tennessee. I have also spent a great amount of time in the battlefield itself.
The area sits on a 5400-acre square in northwest Georgia. It is easy to imagine how intense fighting was in such a small area. The campaign and battle take their name from Chickamauga Creek. Legend says that Chickamauga is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” In the book, Myths of the Cherokee, James Mooney writes that Chickamauga is the more common spelling for Tsïkäma’gï, a name that “has no meaning in their language” and is possibly “derived from an Algonquian word referring to a fishing or fish-spearing place… if not Shawano, it is probably from the Creek or Chickasaw.”
An organization of Southeastern Native American archeologists called The People of One Fire has been examining the cultures. According to the group, the town of Chickamauga was originally a Chickasaw settlement. A theory is that the word “Chickamauga” is the Anglicization of the Chickasaw words, chika mauka. During the American Revolution, Cherokee refugees were allowed to settle near the town. By the 1780s, so many Cherokees had arrived in the region that the name “Chickamauga” was applied to the fierce Cherokees who attacked the white settlers moving through the area via the Tennessee River. I have always thought that Chickamauga refers to a falcon-like hawk that is native to our region. The hawk only lives on rock bluffs and that was where the area got its name.
The land had been part of the Cherokee Nation until 1838, when the Land Lottery opened for new settlers. The main settlement of the area became Chattanooga, Tennessee, which lies six miles to the north of Chickamauga. At the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln said, “Taking Chattanooga is as important as taking Richmond.”
What made this tiny river town of 2500 people so important to the United States? Chattanooga sits on the Tennessee River, was a railway hub, and was viewed as the gateway to the Deep South. Cotton, corn, indigo and rice went by rail to the cities from the Southern states to the industrial populations of the larger northern cities. By taking this one little town, the Union forces could push their way to victory and crush the Confederacy. The Union Army was defeated in this attack and would prove to be a hollow victory for the tattered .
The Battle of Chickamauga is more complex than any chess game you will ever play. Because of its deep and layered structuring, the battle is still studied by the military. Basically stated, it was a bloodbath, with only a twenty-yard visibility, and to quote one of the soldiers, the sound was like “escape valves from a thousand steam engines.” It is documented that there were parts of the battlefield where men fought without their feet touching the ground due to the debris of injured and dead men, downed trees, and felled horses. Napoleonic warfare ended at the Battle of Chickamauga.
With the territory being newly settled, the undergrowth was thick, making visibility almost impossible. Not only that, the temperature range was extreme, with the daytime heat reaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures hitting 32 degrees. The moon position was crescent, making nighttime visibility even worse than it was during the day. With that type of heat, the region became extremely humid. The clothing of the era was made of linen, cotton, and mainly wool. The soldiers’ body temperatures went from hot to cold, plus they waded through creeks and blood. The clothing alone had to add to their discomfort. In an effort to bring history alive, my father has agreed to share the family story with you. Our family has been in the Chattanooga area since the 1700s, when it was the Cherokee Nation. This is all documented information. In 1838, our direct ancestor went west on the Cherokee Removal, leaving part of the family in Tennessee. The Cookson Hills in Oklahoma are named after that branch of our family. The Civil War found six brothers in five different states, due to the Trail of Tears. Possibly due to our native ties, we have no substantiated stories of the Civil War, unlike most families with Southern roots.
With that in mind, here are some of the items I uncovered while researching at Chickamauga and things that you may not know. Corn was king in the southeast Tennessee, north Georgia, and Alabama region at the beginning of the Civil War. Most farmers were making a great living from selling their product to the British Empire, which was involved in the Crimean War. There was a global economy even then.
The majority of these men had no desire to fight a war for either the Union or the Confederacy, nor did they own slaves, and only “joined” when they were conscripted (drafted). It was the first military draft in American history with both sides mimicking or closely matching the other in terms of policies and procedures. After all, until that point, we had all been the same country. If you were a politician, you did not have to serve in the military. Often, Confederate soldiers would be drafted only to desert their post later due to starvation and join the Union forces in another area, region, or state.
Family members did fight on opposing sides, and this was not uncommon. Allegiance to a cause did not stop or start at the Mason-Dixon Line. Union Major General George H. Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” was a Virginian. Samuel Cooper, a native son of New York, was one of the higher-ranking Confederate generals.
Eleven Confederate battle flags were utilized; most of them were blue with relatively few using any other color. It has not been recorded that any of them had the St. Andrews style cross, or what would be recognized today as the Confederate flag.
The majority of the 150,000 men who fought at Chickamauga spoke French as a second language.
Propaganda was rampant with most Southern towns having a Union and a Confederate newspaper. It was not unusual for a newspaper editor to be shot for his political views. Post offices, towns, and newspapers in the autumn of 1862 ran pleas for Southern men to volunteer because the Union would soon send “Hessians to steal your property and take your women,” according to one of my National Park Service guides.
The Battle of Chickamauga saw approximately 34,000 casualties, five million rounds of artillery, plus five million rifle rounds. The Union Army alone had over 45,000 horses and 2,000 wagons; all on a four-mile square, wooded, and heavily timbered patch of ground in north Georgia.
Chickamauga proved to be the costliest two-day battle of the Civil War in many ways. The Confederate Army won the actual battle, yet couldn’t maintain the tide of morale or even food needed for its dwindling forces. After this battle, Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant was given overall command in the West as the armies in the southeastern states were called. History records what he, along with General William Tecumseh Sherman, accomplished. This rough territory and savage fighting were used to create the first U.S. National Military Park in 1895. Chickamauga, so serene today yet so brutal in 1863, served as the model for future military parks, including those at Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Vicksburg. The men who fought in the battle understood why this place had to be commemorated and knew the value of being united forever as Americans.
Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. US Bureau of American Ethnology, 1897-8 Annual Report, 1902.
Watkins, Sam. R. 1861 vs. 1882. “Co. Aytch,” Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment; or, A Side Show of the Big Show. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House.
The staff and archives of the Chickamauga Battlefield. National Park Service.
All photographs public domain or owned by the author.
Deb Hunter writes fiction as Hunter S. Jones, publishing as an indie author, as well as through MadeGlobal Publishing. She is a member of the prestigious Society of Authors founded by Lord Tennyson, Society of Civil War Historians (US), Dangerous Women Project Global Writers Initiative (University of Edinburgh), Romance Writers of America (PAN member), Historical Writers’ Association, Historical Novel Society, English Historical Fiction Authors, Atlanta Writers Club, Atlanta Writers Conference, and Rivendell Writers Colony which is associated with The University of the South. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, she now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband.
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