Robbins: The old Richardson's house and the Civil War

The old Richardson's house, that served as headquarters to Gen. William Rosecrans during the Civil War and the battles for Chattanooga, was in the 300 block of Walnut Street. / Photo courtesy of The Public Library
The old Richardson's house, that served as headquarters to Gen. William Rosecrans during the Civil War and the battles for Chattanooga, was in the 300 block of Walnut Street. / Photo courtesy of The Public Library

"The Wit and Wisdom of Sam Divine" gives a look at post-Civil War Chattanooga by one of its best known residents. In his book, Divine reminisces:

"One of the last of the old landmarks to step down and out to make room (in 1913) for a modern structure is the old Richardson's home on Walnut Street. It stands near the middle of the block on the east side, between Third and Fourth Streets.

"It was built by John G. Glass (and) sold to Thomas Richardson, who came here in 1854 from New York State and engaged in the tanning business.

"The house itself has some historic value, the headquarters of Gen. William Rosecrans, Gen. [George] Thomas and Gen. [Ulysses S.] Grant as commanding generals of the Army of the Cumberland during the battles of Chattanooga. The only surviving member of the Richardson family is J.G., the younger son, now with Dewees Grocery Company. Joe and I were boys together, went to school together, played baseball and hockey together, and were in the newspaper business together during the war - we sold papers for a news agent who had a military license.

"These reminiscences are the result of meeting Joe on the street today. In talking over old times he told me with sadness in his eyes that the old house, the home of his childhood, was soon to be torn away; that it had been bought by Mr. John Twinam, who is having plans drawn for an apartment house with eight apartments of four rooms each, or thirty-two rooms in all.

"The building is to be two stories high and sit back ten feet from the sidewalk, with a court in front, something new in architecture for apartment houses.

"Joe tells me of Gen. Sherman, who passed several nights in the house. Matches in those days were a scarce article, and instead of being put up in boxes they were in solid blocks and all attached at the bottom with a solid piece of wood and had to be pulled apart. Joe had one of these blocks of matches which he prized highly, as a boy naturally would.

"During the evening Gen. Sherman wishing to light a cigar, asked for a match, and Joe, anxious to accommodate so distinguished a guest and at the same time display his valuable treasure, offered his block of matches to the Generals. Gen. Sherman detached one, lit his cigar and put the rest in his pocket, to Joe's disgust and chagrin.

"Standing around for some time, thinking the general would hand them back to him, he finally became desperate and mustered up courage to ask the general to 'gim me back dem matches.' Gen. Sherman smilingly said, 'Young man, you just charge those matches up to Jeff Davis. I need them in my business. I confiscate them as a military necessity.'

"Joe said he has a grouch against Gen. Sherman until this day and thinks Sherman used those matches in firing the homes of Georgia, on his march to the sea.

"In the old Richardson house, now about to be cast into the scrap heap of time, was planned the battle of Missionary Ridge, which raised the siege of Chattanooga and opened the way for Sherman's march through Georgia and the downfall of the Southern Confederacy.

Read more Chattanooga History Columns

"In this house were assembled at one time four of the greatest generals of the war on the Union side. But while these great generals were planning how to circumvent the rebels, Joe and I were out among the private soldiers, yelling, "Here's your Cincinnati Commercial and Louisville Courier-Journal; only five cents!" And they sold like hot cakes.

"I made a darned sight more money then for the time and labor involved than I've ever made since. There was plenty of competition, but no trusts. Sometimes we had to fight, but the best man licked.

"What strange beings these mortals are. How quickly we adjust ourselves to circumstances and condition - to war and then to peace; from riches to poverty. But the hardest thing is for a poor man to adjust himself to sudden riches. I have never tried it but heard of folks who had.

"But here let us pause an shed a tear, for the passage of an old landmark that severs a tie between now and the long ago, where memory gradually sinks into the grave of oblivion.

"But cheer up. Do not weep. The legislature is still in session, and congress will soon adjourn. We can adjust ourselves to any situation, even to a change in the administration."

Frank (Mickey) Robbins is an investment adviser with Patten and Patten. For more visit

Upcoming Events