Robbins: More notes from Bradford Torrey's 1895 visit to Chickamauga Battlefield

Robbins: More notes from Bradford Torrey's 1895 visit to Chickamauga Battlefield

September 23rd, 2018 by Frank "Mickey" Robbins in Opinion Columns

Union and Confederate soldiers fight at the Battle of Chickamauga. (Library of Congress/Copyrighted 1890 by Kurz S. Allison, Art Publishers)

Photo by Library of Congress/Copyrighted 1890 by Kurz S. Allison, Art Publishers

Second of two parts.

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

"From the hill it was but a few steps to the Snodgrass house, where a woman stood in the yard with a young girl, and answered all my inquiries with cheerful and easy politeness. None of the Snodgrass family now occupied the house, she said, though one of the daughters still lived just outside the reservation. The woman had heard her describe the terrible scenes on the days of the battle. The operating-table stood under this tree, and just there was a trench into which the amputated limbs were thrown. Yonder field, now grassy, was then planted with corn; and when the Federal troops were driven through it, they trod upon their own wounded, who begged piteously for water and assistance. A large tree in front of the house was famous, the woman said; and certainly it was well hacked. A picture of it had been in 'The Century.' General Thomas was said to have rested under it; but an officer who had been there not long before to set up a granite monument near the gate told her that General Thomas didn't rest under that tree. Two things, he did, he saved the Federal army from destruction and made the Snodgrass farmhouse an American shrine.

"The granite tower in the shadow of which I had rested awhile ago was General Wilder's monument, they said. His headquarters was there.

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"A strange fate had beholden these Georgia farms, owned once by Dyer, Snodgrass, Kelley, Brotherton, and the rest: the plainest and most ordinary of country houses, in which lived the plainest of country people, with no dream of fame, or of much else, perhaps, beyond the day's work and the day's ration. Then comes Bragg retreating before Rosecrans, who is maneuvering him out of Tennessee. Here the Confederate leader turns upon his pursuers. Here he — or rather, one of his subordinates — wins a great victory, which nevertheless, as a Southern historian says, 'sealed the fate of the Southern Confederacy.' Now farmers are gone, but their names remain; and as long as the national government endures, pilgrims from far and near will come to walk over the historic acres. 'This is the Dyer house,' they will say, 'and this is the Kelly house, and this is the Snodgrass house.' So Fame catches up a chance favorite, and consigns the rest to oblivion.

"A jaunt through the woods past the Kelly house brought me to a superfine, spick-and-span new road — like the new government 'boulevard' on Missionary Ridge — following which I came to the Brotherton house, another war-time landmark, weather-beaten and fast going to ruin. In the woods — cleared of underbrush, and with little herbage — were scattered ground flowers. The flower that pleased me most was the blood-red catchfly, which I had first seen on Missionary Ridge. Nothing could have been more appropriate here on the bloody field of Chickamauga. Appealing to fancy instead of to fact, it nevertheless spoke of the battle almost as plainly as the hundreds of decapitated trees, which even the most careless observer could not fail to notice.

"Then, passing the Widow Glenn's (Rosecran's headquarters), on the road to Crawfish Springs, I came to a diminutive body of water — sinkhole — which I knew at once could be nothing but Bloody Pond. At the time of the fight it contained the only water to be had for a long distance. It was fiercely contended for, therefore, and men and horses drank from it greedily while other men and horses lay dead in it, having dropped while drinking. Now a fence runs through it, leaving an outer segment of it open to the road for the convenience of passing teams; and when I came in sight of the spot, two boys were fishing round the further edge.

"The pond was of the smallest and meanest — muddy shore, muddy bottom, and muddy water; but men fought and died in it in those awful September days of heat and dust and thirst. There was no better place on the field, perhaps in which to realize the horrors of the battle, and I was glad to have the chickadee's voice the last sound in my ears as I turned away."

Frank "Mickey" Robbins, an investment adviser with Patten and Patten, is a board member of National Park Partners, a 501(C)3 champion of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. For more visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.

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