Cooper: Chattanooga churches felt 'hard hand of war' during siege of 1863

Cooper: Chattanooga churches felt 'hard hand of war' during siege of 1863

October 26th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

After Union cannonballs started flying on Aug. 21, 1863, Chattanoogans dutifully attending a proclaimed day of fasting and prayer at city churches scattered to the winds.

Among the items left in the wake of that exit was an oversized Bible that was rescued from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, located near the corner of Eighth and Chestnut streets, by a Union chaplain from Indiana. The chaplain would note in the inscription that the book was taken from its absent owners after the Battle of Chickamauga. "Rebels [who] left the word of God behind in their flight, knowing that its moral precepts condemned them in their treason."

The Bible, says Chattanooga attorney Sam Quattrochi, was returned to what had become First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1944. The church, used as a Union munitions dump during the war, later relocated to Oak and Lindsay streets before moving to North Moore Road in 1958.

Earlier this week, Quattrochi was one of several speakers representing the then-downtown churches during a program, "Churches Under Siege: Chattanooga 1863," at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

The city, by the time war came that fall, had Presbyterian, Methodist, Cumberland Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal and Catholic congregations. As war approached what had been a scenic and attractive town, "the eyes of two countries (the United States and the Confederate states) were on the events unfolding here," Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park historian Jim Ogden told the 100 or so people in attendance at the program.

And once Union soldiers began thundering into Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga, it became a "militantly busy town," with a drought-breaking, late-October rain making it "a grid of quagmires that [confounded] man and beast," he said.

"Chattanooga and churches felt the hard hand of war," Ogden said.

Once Confederate forces abandoned the city and Union troops occupied it on Sept. 9, 1863, many of the houses of worship were seized, he said. And after the Battle of Chickamauga the next week, they became hospitals for some 4,000 injured Union troops who came or were brought to the city.

Among those used as hospitals, speakers said, were the Episcopal Church on Chestnut Street, where Mountain City Club is now located; the Presbyterian church at Seventh and Market, where the United Way building now stands; and the Methodist church, between what is now Lookout Street and Georgia Avenue.

As the town changed hands, the Presbyterian church, according to First Presbyterian historian David Cooper, had a congregation of gray-coated Confederates one week and a crowd of blue-coated Federals the next. After the church - its pews ripped out to accommodate the injured - was requisitioned, the faithful continued to meet in the home of pastor Thomas Hooke McCallie. Those faithful, however, were reduced from 150 before the war to 15 or 20 for next year or so, he said.

Church records at St. Peter's and Paul's Catholic Church, then on Lindsay Street, indicate that baptisms, marriages and confirmations - however few there were - continued through 1862 and 1863, according to member Geraldine Charlton.

And despite a warning against destruction "on penalty of death" from then-Union Army of the Cumberland commander - and Catholic - William Rosecrans, the church's new unfinished stone church at the corner of Eighth Street and Georgia Avenue was nevertheless pilfered by Union troops for fortifications and culverts.

The Baptist church, then on part of property now occupied by the Hamilton County Courthouse, also was impounded by federal troops, said First Baptist historian Ruth Robinson. But the church managed to hold on to its prized brass bell by painting it black. However, she said, the church "membership practically evaporated."

The various churches, some speakers indicated, did receive reparations from the reunited U.S. government after the war - in some cases well after. While an early payment of $4,600 helped the Presbyterian church add a new roof, plaster, paint and pews, the Catholic church didn't receive $18,000 until 1888. Claims made by the Baptist church also were paid well after the fact.

While none of the churches are in the same location as they were during the battles for Chattanooga 150 years ago, several retained artifacts of the era, speaker said. In addition to First Cumberland's abandoned Bible and First Baptist's bell, St. Paul's has held onto an altar. And the latter's former bell and cornerstone are a part of Thankful Memorial Episcopal Church in St. Elmo.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at