White: Trail of Tears and its Civil War legacy in Chattanooga

White: Trail of Tears and its Civil War legacy in Chattanooga

July 28th, 2013 Lee White in Opinion Columns

We tend to look at our nation's history as a series of topical events such as the Revolutionary War, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Great Depression. However, we do not often see them as they are, chapters in the larger story of the United States.

There is a lot of attention now on the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War, which had a dramatic effect on this area and continues to resonate to this day. This year also marks the 175th anniversary of another tragic event that continues to impact the nation, namely the Cherokee Nation's forced removal by the United States in what became known as the Trail of Tears.

In many ways, the removal of the Cherokee from their land was another step toward Civil War, and a number of the men involved in the removal played a large role in the struggle for Chattanooga 25 years later.

In 1838, as the war with the Seminole in Florida began winding down, United States Army troops were ordered from there to the lands of what had been the Cherokee Nation.

Braxton Bragg, a 21-year-old lieutenant, was with the 3rd United States Artillery. He had recently returned to this unit after a lengthy absence due to an illness that haunted him for the remainder of his life.

Bragg, a graduate of West Point, was first assigned to the army in Florida, where his health crumbled due to a bout with yellow fever. Consequently, he welcomed a return to service in a mountainous climate like Georgia and Tennessee.

Bragg's stay in the area exposed him to the rough terrain of the area as he worked with detachments rounding up the Cherokee and bringing them to camps near Ross's Landing (present-day Chattanooga).

Bragg departed with one detachment of the displaced Cherokee on their way west. When he returned to Chattanooga 150 years ago, he was a general leading the Confederate Army of Tennessee and now fighting against the army in which he served faithfully for many years.

The familiar shadow of Lookout Mountain once again overcast him, and the memories of his time there and the efforts to round up the Cherokee in the difficult terrain, no doubt influenced him.

In September 1863, Bragg claimed the only victory of his career in the shadows of these mountains, along Chickamauga Creek. However, that victory cost him control of Chattanooga, forcing him to besiege the city and try starving the Union Army into submission.

Another young officer coming to the area in 1838 was a West Point classmate of Bragg's, Lieutenant Joseph Hooker. He was serving on the staff of Major General Winfield Scott, who was assigned to oversee the removal of the Cherokee. Hooker ranged through the area in his various assignments and, like Bragg, gained an appreciation for the rough terrain of the region.

In 1863, when Hooker returned to the area as a United States general, he led a large force of reinforcements sent to save the besieged Union Army of the Cumberland.

Hooker was a man looking for redemption, having been disgraced by his removal from command of the Union Army of the Potomac because of his defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va.

Fu eled with a desire to take back his good name, Hooker looked to the Confederate positions situated atop the towering Lookout Mountain and developed a plan that many deemed impossible - taking the heights by force.

On Nov. 24, 1863, General Joe Hooker did the impossible. He forced the Confederates from the mountain in what became poetically known as "The Battle Above the Clouds." The following day in the Battle of Missionary Ridge the Union forces defeated the Confederates and secured control of Chattanooga.

As we take a moment in the coming months to reflect on the hardships and heartache associated with the losses during the Campaign for Chattanooga, let us not forget that 25 years earlier, thousands of men, women, and children experienced many of these same emotions as they were being forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands.

Lee White is a guide at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. For more information, visit chattahistoricalassoc.org or telephone LaVonne Jolley at 423-886-2090.