Gerber: Civil War events expected to draw 100,000 to Chattanooga area

Gerber: Civil War events expected to draw 100,000 to Chattanooga area

September 8th, 2013 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Alison Gerber

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

In the autumn of 1863, Chattanooga was a small river town.

But because of its location on the Tennessee River and at the crossroads of important rail lines, it was considered a key prize in the Civil War.

"Chattanooga had only 2,545 inhabitants in 1860, but its importance was out of all proportion to its size," according to the National Park Service. "Chattanooga was vital to the Confederacy and a coveted goal of the Northern armies."

The city was known as the "gateway to the deep South," and Chattanooga and the surrounding region came to see "some of the most complex maneuvers and hard fighting of the Civil War," the park service states.

Following defeats at Gettysburg, Pa., and Vicksburg, Miss., in July, the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, Ga., in September gave hope to the South. But the loss of Chattanooga to Union forces that winter changed everything.

What happened on the mountains and ridges surrounding the city, on the river and creeks here, and in the fields and woods of Chickamauga paved the way for the capture of Atlanta and Gen. William T. Sherman's infamous March to the Sea.

This month, thousands of people will revisit the area and commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga and the Battles for Chattanooga campaign. On Saturday, the Times Free Press will publish a special section about the sesquicentennial. It'll be packed with details of what happened here, the significance of battles fought here and biographical information about those who fought here.

The section also will be available at events commemorating the anniversary on Sept. 14, 15, 21 and 22. On the weekend of Sept. 14-15, events at Chickamauga Battlefield include artillery demonstrations, music and a living-history program that covers 1860 to 1864.

On the weekend of Sept. 20-21, the Lytle Monument will be rededicated; the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera will perform at the Wilder Brigade Monument; and ranger-guided programs will be available at the battlefield.

The largest event that weekend will be the re-enactment of the Battle of Chickamauga. Because battle re-enactments aren't usually allowed in national parks, it will be held at the 1,839-acre Mountain Cove Farms at McLemore Cove in Walker County, Ga., at the juncture of Lookout and Pigeon mountains. Organizers say 4,000 re-enactors will be there and around 30,000 spectators are expected during the two-day battle.

Overall, Civil War events in the Chattanooga area could draw more than 100,000 people, organizers say.

Chickamauga was the largest battle fought in the war's Western Theater. When it was over, 34,624 were dead, injured or missing. Close to 4,000 soldiers died on Chickamauga Battlefield.

Even so many years later, ghosts of the war still hover.

The Confederate flag is still a lightning rod in the South, historians still analyze battlefield blunders, modern-day men and women put away their cellphones and dress in period costume on key battle anniversaries. The war transformed the social and political landscape in the country and this region.

The Chattanooga area was forever changed by the battles fought here and the changes that came after the war, when transplants from the North and local residents formed businesses that built our city, which became known as the Dynamo of Dixie.

The Civil War is part of the South's DNA, whether for good or bad may depend on your point of view. The Times Free Press' special section will delve into the history of the war, its immediate effects and its long-term repercussions, serving as a reminder that, while it took place 150 years ago, the Civil War still casts a shadow.

Alison Gerber is editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Contact her at agerber@timesfreepress.com.