published Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Greater Chattanooga area battlefields buffed up for Civil War sesquicentennial

Lee Collins cleans up the mortar on the Lytle Monument in the Chickamauga Battlefield.
Lee Collins cleans up the mortar on the Lytle Monument in the Chickamauga Battlefield.
Photo by Staff File Photo.

Civil War Sesquicentennial timeline:

• Sept. 14-15: 150th anniversary events at Chickamauga Battlefield

• Sept. 20: Rededication of Lytle Monument

• Sept. 21: Evening concert at Wilder Brigade Monument

• Sept. 19-22: Major re-enactment of Chickamauga battle at Mountain Cove Farms in Georgia

• Sept. 21-22: Special programs at Chickamauga Battlefield

• Oct. 9-12: Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial signature event: Occupation and Liberation symposium at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Free and open to the public, the four-day event will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will feature talks by Civil War experts, battle artifacts and a special musical presentation.

• Nov. 23-24: 150th anniversary events for the Battles for Chattanooga (at various locations around Chattanooga).

Close to 4,000 Civil War soldiers died on the Chickamauga Battlefield. And one death united both Southern and Northern men in mourning: the fall of “poet-warrior” Union Brig. Gen. William Haines Lytle.

The entire nation revered Lytle’s poetry — and his courage in battle inspired his soldiers.

“All right, men! We can die but once! This is our time and place. Let us charge!” they remembered Lytle saying as he led his final foray on Sept. 20, 1863.

After being shot in the spine, Lytle calmly told Union Capt. Alfred Pirtle, “I have to leave the field, you stay here and see that all goes right.”

Confederate soldiers stood over Lytle’s body on what’s now known as “Lytle Hill” until Union troops retrieved it. A Confederate surgeon mailed locks of Lytle’s hair to his sisters in Cincinnati, along with scraps of poetry, letters and papers found on his body.

The rededication of the Lytle Monument, one of eight identical cannonball pyramids on Chickamauga Battlefield honoring fallen commanding officers, will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga.

It’s just one example of feverish preparations under way for the sesquicentennial of Civil War battles here, a series of events expected to draw tens of thousands of re-enactors and spectators, and their tourism dollars, to the tri-state area.

The largest event will be the re-enactment of the Battle of Chickamauga. Battle re-enactments aren’t usually allowed in military parks and must be performed offsite. So it will be held at the 1,839-acre Mountain Cove Farms at McLemore Cove in Walker County, Ga., at the juncture of Lookout and Pigeon mountains.

“This will be the biggest city in Walker County, hands down,” County Coordinator David Ashburn said.

He said 4,000 re-enactors have signed up to participate, and 30,000 or so spectators are expected during the two-day battle. By comparison, Walker County’s largest city, LaFayette, has around 7,000 residents.

The various Civil War events in the Chattanooga area could draw more than 100,000 people, Ashburn said.

“If you look at Shiloh up in the middle of nowhere, they had 100,000 people over a 10-day period,” he said. “They’re expecting that, if not more, here. The [Chickamauga Battlefield] is doing a week of events ending with the symphony in the park there at Wilder’s Monument.”

Walker County owns part of Mountain Cove, a former cattle farm, and county employees and inmate crews have been working hard to fix up the site for the re-enactment, including preparing spaces for spectators’ recreational vehicles and re-enactors’ tents. The crews also have renovated seven cabins and a house that were rented far in advance of the event.

County employees and inmates also are installing historic-looking bridges that will stand in for the Reed’s and Alexander’s bridges that existed during the battle. The faux bridges will stay in place after the re-enactment and be used as hiking trail bridges.

Buffing up the Battlefield

Over the years the three-sided, pyramid-shaped Lytle Monument morphed into a flat triangle as its cannonballs were stolen by vandals and cannibalized to repair other monuments. Now it’s been restored through a $64,000 fundraising effort that brought in Lookout Metalworks in Flintstone, Ga., to weld the monument’s 323 cannonballs to a steel frame — an improvement over the original cannonballs set in concrete.

“It would take a lot to be able to dislodge one,” Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Superintendent Cathy Cook said.

Nineteen of the major monuments at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park got makeovers in time for the 150th anniversary of battles there.

The painstaking work was done by a crew from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Md.

Armed with tools of the trade such as powdered walnut shells, used as a gentler alternative to sandblasting bronze plaques, the crew did $1 million worth of cleanup over three years.

The battlefield has spiffed up smaller attractions, too.

Along with reconstructing the Lytle Monument, Mark Phillips, owner of Lookout Metalworks, and his employees and brothers-in-law, Lee and Tracy Collins, have restored 150 cannons and 450 metal Civil War tablets over the past seven years.

The work’s been a labor of love for Phillips. He’s a “gunner” who fires cannons with a group of Civil War re-enactors out of Monteagle, Tenn.

“I’m a Civil War buff,” Phillips said. “I took a lot of pride in it. It wasn’t just a job.”

Contact Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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