White: One Confederate soldier's impression of Chattanooga

White: One Confederate soldier's impression of Chattanooga

July 7th, 2013 by Lee White in Opinion Columns


Lee White is a park guide at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

On Monday, July 6, 1863, the bruised and weary Confederate Army of Tennessee arrived in Chattanooga after the disastrous Tullahoma Campaign.

Among the dusty horde was a young South Carolinian, C. Irvine Walker. This was Walker's second time in Chattanooga and he could not have been very happy.

Walker served on the staff of Brigadier General Arthur Middleton Manigault, an especially prestigious position for the 21-year-old. Walker was born into a prominent middle-class family in Charleston and due to his own diligence, and his father's connections, he found an appointment to the South Carolina Military Academy, now more popularly known as the Citadel.

Walker excelled there and was set to be the valedictorian of the Class of 1861. However, the firing on Fort Sumter set his world upside down, and instead of getting his diploma, he received an officer's commission in the 10th South Carolina Infantry Regiment.

Walker soon found his way onto the staff of Manigault. In 1862, when his commander and brigade were transferred from Charleston to the war's western theater, he went with them, being assigned to the Army of Tennessee.

Shortly after his arrival, Chattanooga was facing a dire threat from the west; a Union army was moving to take Chattanooga, advancing from Huntsville, Ala. In one of the war's most extraordinary moves, Braxton Bragg, the commander of the Army of Tennessee, boarded his army onto trains and sent them on an epic journey from Corinth, Miss., to Mobile, Ala., to Atlanta and finally Chattanooga.

They arrived in time to halt the Union advance, and before they had a chance to regroup, General Bragg decided to take the opportunity to go on the offensive and invade Kentucky. While Bragg planned, young Walker visited the town, and was unimpressed. Walker wrote his fiancé on Aug. 7, 1862, from Chickamauga Station (near the present-day Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport), "I hope you will be able to read if not pronounce the large something Indian name which is applied to the last place in this created world where a human being should stay, except Corinth.

"We have at last completed the journey of which I spoke in my last, and are just in such a position that I really don't know where I am or where I am to be tomorrow or the next day. I do know however that I am in the country of Brownlow and Andy Johnson. ... The people, I am informed, are not well disposed to us, although the presence of an army acts as a powerful 'quietus' to anything like the utterance of Union sentiments."

A few days later he wrote, "Well, I have seen Chattanooga. The Regt. has been ordered there twice and not yet seen it. There is some consolation in the fact they have not lost much. It is a town which covers a very large expanse of ground and has, comparatively thereto, a very few houses. The houses are of a very ordinary style, few even nice looking, but beautifully situated.

"The town is situated at the foot of Lookout Mountain which rises even from the town itself like some monster sentinel, keeping watch over the destinies of the town. ... I don't want however to see Chattanooga again."

After a year, Walker returned with an unsoftened opinion of the town, writing "I hope when we leave Chattanooga again it will be for the last time during the war."

However, it must have been a great disappointment that he would stay around the town and have his life endangered numerous times in the battles that came in the fading days of summer and fall of 1863. Walker may have been unimpressed with the appearance of the town but both sides realized the critical importance of holding the town, which was viewed as a "gateway" into the Deep South and the critical supply centers that were located in the cities of Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, and Columbus.

Chattanooga, in Confederate hands, shielded those areas, the four rail lines that funneled supplies and troops to the major Confederate armies and in enabling the Confederates to use it as a supply base to launch offensive moves, much like they did in 1862. When Chattanooga fell into Union hands, it was a bitter pill for Walker, who wrote, "We have met with one of the most severe and unaccountable defeats of the whole war." It was one more blow from which Walker and his fellow Confederates found it hard to recover.

For more information, visit chattahistoricalassoc.org.