Orchard Knob Reservation marks 150th anniversary of Civil War action

Orchard Knob Reservation marks 150th anniversary of Civil War action

November 24th, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

Chickamauaga and Chattanooga National Military Park historian Jim Ogden speaks to the crowd gathered for a tour at the Orchard Knob National Military Reservation on Saturday.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

A crowd listens to during a tour at the Orchard Knob Civil War battle site.

A crowd listens to during a tour at...

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

View our additional coverage of the Civil War 150th Anniversary

Jim Ogden's voice came out raspy, rising and falling like a drill sergeant's and straining to carry over a continual breeze to a group huddled on the side of Orchard Knob on Saturday.

The group stood close together at the top of the hill, which lies within Orchard Knob National Military Reservation -- a park that's two city blocks in size and sandwiched in the middle of a dense residential area.

It's a beautiful vantage point, but a practical one, too, for waging a ground war in the mid-19th century. And as it happened, the United States and the Confederate States of America thought so, too.

And they each wanted that little knob, which would be so strategic in holding Chattanooga and supporting Missionary Ridge. They were willing to fight and die for it.

So they did. Exactly 150 years ago.

The fight for Orchard Knob broke out around 2 p.m. on Nov. 23, 1863, after Ulysses S. Grant, major general of U.S. forces, did some reconnaissance and decided it was worth swapping licks with the South to take the hill.

In hindsight, a good decision by Grant, noting the successful campaign of U.S. Gen. William T. Sherman to Atlanta and then the coast -- a campaign which started in Chattanooga.

Ogden, historian at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, led three speaking tours at Orchard Knob Reservation on Saturday, and he pointed out where Union regiments moved in and set up around the Confederates' hill-top fort.

"We often today look back and think the Civil War was going to turn out the way it did, but that was not necessarily a given when the war began," he said.

And it wasn't a guarantee in Chattanooga, two years into the Civil War, which informally began at Ft. Sumter, S.C., in 1861.

"In 1863, the eyes of two nations were focused on Chattanooga and had been for weeks," Ogden said Saturday.

There was speculation about whether Grant would try to take decisive action against the Confederate forces and make an attempt at President Abraham Lincoln's desire to break East Tennessee out of the South's hands for the Union.

And "the 23rd of November was confirmation that indeed it was going to happen," Ogden said.

The rest is history.

An "important history today," said Maggie Greene, a Chattanooga resident who was attended Ogden's Saturday afternoon tour.

She and her husband, Will Greene, stood around after Ogden wrapped up, talking with other park visitors, all of them battling the cold in the sun's falling orange light.

"We want to remember and we want other people to remember," said Will Greene.

He glanced up at the stone-still Civil War soldiers that top regimental memorials around the reservation.

"I think these fellas would've appreciated that," he said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.