Robbins: Journalist in 1895 details visit to Chickamauga Battlefield

Robbins: Journalist in 1895 details visit to Chickamauga Battlefield

September 16th, 2018 by Frank "Mickey" Robbins in Opinion Columns

(First of two parts)

Bradford Torrey, a Boston journalist, wrote about a visit to the Chickamauga Battlefield in his 1895 "Spring Notes from Tennessee." Below are excerpts.

"The field of Chickamauga — a worthily resounding name for one of the great battlefields of the world — lies a few miles south of the Tennessee and Georgia boundary, and is distant about an hour's ride by rail from Chattanooga.

The Snodgrass House at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. (Photo courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library)

The Snodgrass House at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National...

Photo by Chattanooga Public Library

Read more Chattanooga History Columns

"From the railway station I followed a road that soon brought me to a comfortable, homelike house, with fine shade trees and an orchard. Here, in September 1863, lived John Dyer, who suddenly found his few peaceful acres surrounded and overrun by a hundred thousand armed men, and himself drafted into service as guide to the Confederate commander. Since then strange things had happened to the little farmhouse, which now was nothing less than a sort of government headquarters, as I rightly inferred from the general aspect of things round about, and the American flag flying above the roof.

"Two or three minutes afterward I came face to face with another apparition, a horseman as graceful and dignified, not to say majestic; a man in civilian dress, but visibly a soldier, with a pose and carriage that made shoulder-straps superfluous; a man to look at; every inch a major-general; of whom, I ventured to inquire, from under my umbrella, if there was any way of seeing some of the more interesting portions of the battlefield without too much exposure to the sun. He showed a little surprise (military gentlemen always do, so far as I have observed, when strangers address them), but recovered himself, and answered with almost affability. Yes, he said if I would take the first turn to the left, I should pass the spot over which Longstreet made the charge that decided the fate of the contest, and as he spoke he pointed out the field, which appeared to be part of the Dyer farm; then I should presently come within sight of the Kelly house, about which the fighting was of the hottest. I thanked him and followed his advice.

"The left-hand road ran between the forest — mostly of tall oaks and long-leaved pines — and the grassy Dyer field. Here it is possible to keep in the shade when two gentlemen came up behind me in a carriage with a pair of horses and a driver. The driver reined in his horses, and the older of the gentlemen put out his head to ask, 'Were you in the battle, sir?' I answered in the negative; and he added, half apologetically, that he and his companion wished to get in as many points as possible about the field. I told him that I was a stranger like himself. It was only afterward that I learned — on meeting him again — that he was no other than General Boynton, the man who is at the head of all things pertaining to Chickamauga and its history.

"Around me, in different parts of the battlefield, were eight or ten houses and cabins, the nearest of them, almost at my feet, being the Snodgrass house, famous as the headquarters of General Thomas, the hero of the fight — the "Rock of Chickamauga" — who saved the Union after the field was lost. All was peaceful enough there now, with the lines full of the week's washing, which a woman under a voluminous sun bonnet was at the moment taking in (in that sun things would dry almost before the clothes-pins could be put on them, I thought), while a red-gowned child, and a hen with a brood of young chickens, kept close about her feet. Her husband, like the occupant of the Kelly house, was no doubt one of the government laborers, who today were burning refuse in the woods, — invisible fires, from each of which a thin cloud of blue smoke rose among the trees.

"Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the day was a two-hour siesta on the Snodgrass Hill tower, above the tops of the highest trees. The only two landmarks of which I knew were Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. Farther to the south was Pigeon Mountain. And so my eye made the round of the horizon, hill after hill in picturesque confusion, till it returned to Missionary Ridge, with Walden's Ridge rising beyond, and Lookout Point on the left: a charming prospect, especially for its atmosphere and color."

Frank "Mickey" Robbins, an investment adviser with Patten and Patten, is a board member of National Park Partners. For more, visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.

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