Who: The Friends of Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park
What: A barbecue in commemoration of the Blue-Gray Barbecue's 125th Anniversary
When: Aug. 28
Where: Point Park atop Lookout Mountain
For more information: Call the "Friends" at 423-648-5623 or go to www.friendsofchch.org
"Chattanooga welcomes the Blue and Gray to a barbecue to be given on Veterans Day, on Chickamauga Battlefield, where they will smoke the pipe of peace and bid each thought of conflict cease."
So read the inside of a highly sought-after invitation in 1889 Chattanooga. It was a novel invitation for a novel idea, a "national military park," the first of its kind, to preserve for future generations to commemorate and study the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. There had been other battlefields preserved, most notably Gettysburg, but these were private efforts and they did not allow for Southern participation. Chickamauga would be different. It would allow Southern monuments and would seek the involvement of the federal government.
This innovative approach was the brainstorm of Henry Boynton, a Union veteran who came up with the idea while riding about the battlefield with another veteran in 1888. "... it should be more than Gettysburg with its monuments along one side alone; the lines of both armies should be equally marked," Boynton concluded.
The two veterans decided to create a Chickamauga Battlefield Association and to invite ex-Confederates to join them. Through Boynton's tireless efforts over the next year, prominent veterans from both sides embraced the idea.
A year later, in September 1889, as the Army of the Cumberland met in annual reunion in Chattanooga, much of its business centered on bringing Boynton's dream to life. On Sept. 19, more than 12,000 veterans of Blue and Gray, sitting side by side, gathered in a large tent in Chattanooga. Boynton informed them of the association's plans to seek Congressional appropriations to make the area's battlefields into a national military park and to allow states to place monuments in honor of their troops. The response was enthusiastic.
The next day, Sept. 20, would be given to celebration. The veterans met at Crawfish Springs for "one of the largest barbecues ever held in the South." Table places for over 12,000 veterans were set and "all of them filled." An estimated 20,000 people covered the grounds. Orators spoke from a platform that hung over Crawfish Springs "just close enough for the creaking music of the old wheel and the bubbling water ... to be heard distinctly ... what a contrast ... to the time twenty-six years ago ... its waters are not dyed in blood and its crystal tones sing a sweet song of peace."
Georgia's John B. Gordon represented the South and William Rosecrans the North. Both men spoke of national unity. Band music followed the speakers and the crowd surged toward the 10 acres set aside for the "spread." The two old generals, astride their horses, tipped their hats as a band played "Dixie" and thousands of old veterans raised the "rebel yell."
Thirty tables, each over 250 feet in length, had been set up, making 7,500 feet of running table. At each veteran's spot was a small container of tobacco and a pipe, "made of wood cut from the Chickamauga battlefield." At the meal's end, the old veterans filled their pipe bowls, lit them, and let "each thought of conflict cease." An attendee remembered, "Men embraced. Old veterans cried like infants as they clasped the hands" of their former comrades and enemies. As the veterans lifted Gordon and Rosecrans to the top of a table in a moment of enthusiasm, all Gordon could say was, "this is the most successful charge I have ever witnessed." At the end of the barbecue, the veterans met at the "Baptist Church upon the battlefield of Chickamauga" to elect incorporators from each state.
An August 1890 act of Congress established Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. In 1895 the "Battlefield" was dedicated. The dream of Henry Boynton and thousands of veterans he brought to the cause had come to fruition. Their work created a public model for battlefield preservation and was the birth of the modern battlefield preservation movement. By the time Chickamauga was dedicated, similar parks had been approved by Congress at Antietam, Shiloh, and Gettysburg.
Dr. Anthony Hodges is president of The Friends of the Park. For more, visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org or call LaVonne Jolley, 423-866-2090.