published Thursday, May 31st, 2012

First shell fired in bombardment of Chattanooga still wowing city (with video)

Civil War collector Dr. Anthony Hodges owns the first hostile shell, left, fired by Union troops upon Chattanooga.
Civil War collector Dr. Anthony Hodges owns the first hostile shell, left, fired by Union troops upon Chattanooga.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
  • Local dentist has first shell fired on Chattanooga during Civil War
    Anthony Hodges, a Red Bank dentist and Civil War memorabilia collector, owns what he believes is the first artillery shell fired on Chattanooga during the Civil War. The shell was fired at what is now AT&T Field, but never exploded, and will be on display June 4 at the Chattanooga Lookouts game.
IF YOU GO

• To buy advance $5 game tickets for Monday's National Park Night with the Lookouts, call 423-648-5623 or visit the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park website at chickchatt.org

• All children entering the park receive a ticket for a free hot dog and drink, and the first 150 children receive Junior Ranger Booklets.

• Children can attend a special program on Civil War history, learn to march like soldiers and march out on the field.

• National Park Night "homer hankies" will be given to the first 1,500 guests.

• Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Superintendent Cathy Cook will throw the first pitch at 7:15 p.m. and the national anthem will be played by a Civil War bugler

• The first shell of the Chattanooga bombardment will be on display.

Source: Friends of the Park

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Who would have thought 150 years ago that the first shell fired on Chattanooga during the Civil War would still be around today?

And who would have thought it would be on display at a baseball game just a few feet from where it fell a century and a half ago to bury itself unexploded in the mud?

Anthony Hodges likes to call it good provenance -- the understanding of something's beginning and fate.

And he likes to call the shell "tangible history."

"I'm not a dates-and-times man. I like to reach out and touch the history," he said, hefting the 12-pound iron shell that Union soldiers of Gen. James Negley's 79th Pennsylvania Volunteers lobbed onto what was then a spur of Cameron Hill on June 7, 1862.

"This is tangible history," said Hodges, a dentist whose passion is Civil War and family history.

That piece of tangible history will be on display Monday during the Chattanooga Lookouts baseball game at AT&T Field.

The shell has led a blessed and much documented life.

As it sailed from Stringer's Ridge in 1862 and plopped into the mud near the post of the Confederate Army's Lookout Artillery -- also known as Barry's Battery -- Lt. John M. Armstrong saw it from his post within the battery's earthen cannon fortifications.

When the hostilities ceased the next day, Armstrong and a friend, Lt. James Lauderdale, dug the shell up as souvenir of the first battle of Chattanooga. After the war, Armstrong returned to Chattanooga and, years later, his daughter Zella Armstrong became the author of the city's first written history.

In her work -- a two volume set -- the shell is pictured with the caption: "The first shell thrown at Chattanooga in the bombardment June 7, 1862. The shell fell on Cameron Hill and buried itself in mud without exploding."

The shell passed through the Armstrong family until 1933, when it was given to the Chattanooga Museum Association, according to Zella Armstrong's account.

Hodges said it also was displayed by the Armstrongs at United Confederate Veteran and United Daughters of the Confederacy events. Eventually, a collector in Red Bank obtained it from Armstrong descendants, along with its original museum display tag.

"I first saw the shell while a student at Red Bank High School, took notice of it and became very interested in it when I read Zella's two-volume history of Chattanooga and Hamilton County while a student at UTC," Hodges said.

When the Red Bank collector died about a decade ago, Hodges obtained the shell from that family.

Igniting interest

But the shell's display days are far from over, according to Hodges and Patrice Glass, executive director of the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

On Monday, what once was an attack on Chattanooga will be an added draw for a baseball game that will, in part, support the Friends group.

The game marks the fourth annual National Park Night with the Lookouts.

Profits from all general admission tickets sold in advance will help the Friends, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, promoting and enhancing the military park.

Glass said the return of one of Chattanooga's great artifacts from the Civil War is "amazing."

"Dr. Hodges will bring that original shell to the game for all to see -- returning the shell to where it fell just three days before the 150th anniversary of the shell's firing," she said.

Hodges also said he plans to lend the shell to the Chattanooga History Center for a display when the center opens.

He values most Civil War shells at $500 to $700, but believes his, with its geographical significance and documented history and near-perfect unexploded condition, is worth $2,000 to $5,000.

  • photo
    This photo from Dr. Anthony Hodges' collection shows Cameron Hill and the site where the first shell landed on what is now AT&T Field.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Historian Jim Ogden said the shell is a physical reminder of Chattanooga's importance in the Civil War.

"The federals sent troops over the mountains to Chattanooga in June 1862 to at least threaten the city and to occupy it, if possible," he said. "Even then, Chattanooga was being seen as an important crossroads or gateway."

That realization grew for both armies as the war lengthened, Ogden and Hodges said.

Hodges, whose Civil War and World War II artifacts and memorabilia collections take up several rooms of his Red Bank dental office and his Elder Mountain home, can reel off Chattanooga Civil War history as quickly and easily as Ogden.

He said his passion for both history and artifacts began with childhood memories of being lifted up to stick his finger in a Civil War bullethole in the Alabama home of his grandparents.

Did the man who became a serious collector and former re-enactor take any of his thousands of artifacts -- some bought, some found as a young man -- to "Antiques Roadshow" when the PBS show it was in Chattanooga?

He smiled.

"I know the guy that does that for 'Antiques Roadshow.' He's good, but I've been doing it a lot longer than he has," Hodges said.

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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