published Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Chickamauga’s Spanish-American War role recalled


by Chloé Morrison
Audio clip

John Culpepper

PDF: Spanish American War

After spending nearly 10 years promoting his city’s Civil War history, Chickamauga City Manager John Culpepper now is touting the area’s role in the Spanish-American War.

“Being around Chicka-mauga and walking the battlefield and studying like I did all these years, I knew there was some good Spanish-American War history around here,” said Mr. Culpepper, who is also a historian and Civil War re-enactor. “We pretty much got to a point where we felt like we’d covered everything on the Civil War.”

The war between Spain and the United States, which took place between April and August of 1898, emerged from issues tied to Cuba’s fight for liberation from Spain.

The Chickamauga Battlefield, best known for the action it saw during the Civil War, was also the nation’s largest military training ground during the Spanish-American War.

About 72,000 troops trained there at a base called Camp Thomas.

The booming community of Lytle, also called Midway, emerged to serve soldiers and their families.

“A little town grew up overnight,” Mr. Culpepper said. “It was a military town.”

That town was a huge economic engine, with a $5 million-a-month revenue stream, said Chattanooga historian and Vietnam veteran Raymond Evans.

Over the past four months, Mr. Evans researched Camp Thomas’ role in the Spanish-American War and created a history book to tell the story of the camp and Lytle.

His study cost about $2,500 and was funded by Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell.

Mrs. Heiskell said renewing interest in the Spanish-American War could boost the area’s economy through heritage tourism. Tourism is Georgia’s second-largest industry.

“We have the richest story you can tell,” Mrs. Heiskell said.

Mr. Evans said he hopes the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park will expand its history to include the Spanish-American War.

Park spokesman Sam Weddle said there isn’t enough time to tell all the region’s history through battlefield tours, so Mr. Culpepper’s effort is important.

“These are pieces of the puzzle that bring the park and the community together,” he said. “Everybody knows the battlefield, but they don’t know it wasn’t just a battlefield.”

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