Trion, Ga. - Chattooga County may have been a minor player during the Civil War, but that doesn't mean the Northwest Georgia county doesn't want to profit from the ongoing commemoration of the conflict.
While better-known battle sites such as Dalton, Chickamauga, Resaca and Kennesaw Mountain stand to gain the most tourist interest, Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters thinks visitors to the region may be lured to lesser-known areas.
"We have three or four locations of real interest, places like Alpine, the site of the battle of Trion and Mount Vernon Mills," Winters said. "We didn't have any big battles here, but Chattooga County will be of interest to anyone following the path of the war."
Chattooga was no stranger to the war. The county sent dozens of young men off to fight, and as the Union Army under Gen. William T. Sherman advanced toward Atlanta, county residents became more intimately acquainted with the war's impact.
After the fall of Atlanta in September 1864 the county served as a highway west for both the battered Confederate Army under Gen. John Bell Hood and Sherman's pursuing bluecoats.
More than 100,000 soldiers from both armies passed through Chattooga on the way to eastern Alabama.
In fact, Sherman was in Summerville when he received word from Washington, D.C., that his audacious plan to march across the interior of Georgia and capture Savannah had been approved. At Gaylesville, Ala., just 20 miles west of Summerville, the Union Army gave up its pursuit of Hood and began its return to Atlanta in preparation for Sherman's campaign to "make Georgia howl."
Chattooga County also was the site of the battle of Trion, a skirmish between Union cavalry and a mix of Confederate mounted troopers and infantry. The Union force withdrew from the field after suffering several dozen casualties.
In 1863, Alpine, in the hilly northwest corner of the county, was the site of a conference between the two most powerful Confederate cavalry officers in the West. Gen. Joe Wheeler and the legendary "Wizard of the Saddle," Nathan Bedford Forrest, met to plan operations only days before the bloody battle at Chickamauga.
Winters hopes these historic events will heighten tourists' interest in the county. So does Chattooga County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director David Tidmore.
"Inevitably we will pick up some tourism," Tidmore said. "There's a lot of history here, and a number of Civil War soldiers are buried in the county."
That point brings up an area of interest for visitors not often mentioned in discussions of historical tourism - cemeteries.
Winters said that for years, Chattooga County has drawn a steady stream of people doing genealogical research. They often visit old cemeteries looking for information about their ancestors.
He expects that activity to pick up because of the heightened interest in Civil War ancestry.
"We are working with the Sons of Confederate Veterans to clean up and provide access points to many of these old, abandoned cemeteries," Winters said. "The [veterans group] knows that if we don't do this work now, a lot of those cemeteries will be lost for good."
Tidmore envies communities with more resources to promote tourism.
"It takes a lot of marketing dollars to get the word out on our Civil War assets," he said. "In Chattooga County we've concentrated our resources on trying to bring industry to the county. It's hard to get the tourism message out."
Jimmy Espy is based in Dalton. Contact him at email@example.com.