Elliott: A war correspondent on Lookout Mountain

This view shows Moccasin Bend from Confederate positions on Lookout Mountain.
This view shows Moccasin Bend from Confederate positions on Lookout Mountain.

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War correspondents have been around the American military for many years, and such was certainly the case in the Civil War. Their work provides the modern historian with valuable insights on the operations of the armies and the morale of the men who fought, and the campaign for Chattanooga in 1863 is no exception. A letter from a correspondent from the Atlanta Register written about a week before the Confederate defeat at Chattanooga provides a lengthy and interesting description of his observations from a trip to the top of Lookout Mountain. The pro-Confederate Register was a Knoxville paper that fled to Atlanta when Knoxville fell to the Federal forces earlier in 1863.

The Register's correspondent wrote that at the top of the mountain, "we found a most elegant summer resort, resembling in appearance a fashionable watering place, with beautiful and commodious hotel buildings, and all else to render the place attractive to seekers of pleasure. Fine freestone springs are also flowing in profusion. This beautiful village is known by the appellation of Summer Town. There is quite a commanding view from the fourth floor of the hotel; but the sublimest scenery is spread before the beholder from the huge boulders of rock that rise so rough and rugged from the extreme N.E. point of the mountain overlooking the Tennessee River."

Looking down, he was "struck with the similarity of the neck of land embraced by [Moccasin Bend] to an Indian's moccasin." He then began to describe points around the shoe-like peninsula with reference to parts of an actual shoe: Chattanooga the "instep," Lookout Creek at the heel, the pontoon bridge (laid by the Federal troops on Oct. 27) the approximate area of the ankle, and "[t]he batteries that fire so frequently upon us may be styled the top of the toe." In addition to these batteries, the newspaperman could observe "two forts in front of Chattanooga with casemated batteries. They are about one mile apart, and the same distance from the city and river." He saw two lines of earthworks, "from the river above [the town] to the river below, "besides the rifle pits for pickets."

Wistfully, the correspondent reflected on the Native Americans who lived in the area only decades before who, in his view, preyed on "unfortunate emigrants or traders" who floated down the river below him. "Now the dusky warrior, with his shrill savage whoop, is not longer heard or seen on the mountain or along the river or valleys." Instead, the "broad forests filled and the beautiful valleys dotted with ten thousand tents, and checkered with roads and entrenchments, and desolated and devastated by the scores of thousands of soldiers who swarm from the mountains, valleys, and forests, fields, and swamps, and all far more wicked and cruel in their works of invasion and bloodshed than the savage Indian inhabitants of a half century gone." The departed native would doubtless "quit his long-loved threshold" when he saw his "fine hunting ground" despoiled and "see the lurid flash and hear the heavy roar, and then the screaming shell cleaving the air and crashing amid the timber."

After his flight of fancy, the newspaperman remarked upon a more prosaic, and to military historians, a more valuable scene. From his vantage point on the mountain, he was surprised to see "the effects of the Federal shot and shell on the highest point of the mountain, cutting two small trees half down. Their guns must be of superior caliber to reach such a great elevation, and their artillerists well skilled to the science they practice. Thus far, we have heard of no damages done by their firing on the mountain." The Cravens House, styled the "Halfway House," was not yet destroyed, however.

Returning to his description of the scenic view from Lookout, the writer anticipated the future Rock City's claim to fame, observing that landmarks from at least four other states were visible. He then closed with a patriotic theme. "Long may we hold this elevated stronghold and standpoint, until the last foe has fled from our Southern land." Ironically, the article was reprinted in another newspaper on Nov. 25, 1863, the day after Lookout Mountain fell to the Federal army.

Sam D. Elliott, a member of the law firm of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott and Cannon PLLC, is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and the Chattanooga Bar Association, and the author or editor of several books and articles on Tennessee in the Civil War era. For more, visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.

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