Attendees of the Civil War Trust's annual conference — which was held in Chattanooga last week and ends today — got a chance to see exactly what their support meant Thursday when the boat on which they boarded passed around the toe of Moccasin Bend and came in sight of Brown's Ferry.
In August 2015, the Civil War Trust purchased 13 acres of privately owned land that was the site of the Tennessee River landing in October 1863 that served to help open the "Cracker Line" that led to the re-supplying of a besieged Union Army-held Chattanooga and, in turn, that army's eventual victory in the Civil War.
Without organizations like the Civil War Trust and its supporters, land that played a part in the nation's history often winds up in the hands of developers and likely never will be reclaimed.
Typically, a historic site like Brown's Ferry purchased by the organization "ends up public land eventually," said Dr. Anthony Hodges, a Chattanooga resident who is an official in several local and national preservation groups and was a presenter at the conference Thursday.
It's not out of the realm of possibility, then, that the site might one day become a part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park or the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District.
Hodges, according to information on the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association (TCWPA) website, sought permission in 2014 to tour the privately owned property, which was then listed for sale. The TCWPA then arranged a "Three Star Battlefield Tour" of the property. Such tours are historian-led, free, public explorations of usually inaccessible Civil War sites on private land.
On that tour, Lookout Mountain resident Carrington Montague, who is a member of several local and national history trusts, made a "generous offer" to TCWPA to help purchase the property. The sale to the Civil War Trust closed the following August with help from the American Battlefield Protection Program, the state of Tennessee, the Lyndhurst Foundation, TCWPA funding from several donors, and individual Civil War Trust donors.
Hodges said the Brown's Ferry property, like that across the river on Moccasin Bend, has significance beyond the Civil War. The landing also was part of the Trail of Tears American Indian removal route some 25 years before the "Cracker Line" and was a key migration route for settlers going into Northwest Georgia and Alabama.
To date, the Civil War Trust has preserved more than 46,000 acres of battlefield in 23 states.
The organization extends its reach beyond the Civil War, though. Indeed, several preservationists who want to increase the size of the Princeton (N.J.) Battlefield State Park were on hand at the conference to interest members in the organization's role in preserving an additional 15 acres where George Washington and his citizen soldiers fought during the Revolutionary War.
Preservation groups have reached an agreement with the Institute for Advance Study, a private independent academic institution, to buy the land, they said, but only have half of the money necessary.
Without the Civil War Trust, though, the Princeton Battlefield Society never would have reached the purchase agreement, the preservationists said.
After the Jan. 3, 1777, battle, said the group's Jerry Hurwitz, the British and Hessian troops never again occupied New Jersey.
"It was a turning point in the war," the organization's Roger Williams said. "It's an important site to all Americans"
Hodges, in addition to his role as a preservationist, is also a collector.
The retired Chattanooga dentist found some 2,000 to 3,000 Minié balls as a child at what had been a Civil War rifle range on Lookout Mountain and now owns an extensive collection of artifacts that includes the likes of the first shell ever shot into Chattanooga during the war and numerous surgical instruments and medicines (on which he made his presentation to the conference).
Two men died of disease, including food poisoning, for every one who died on the battlefield, he said.
One who survived, Hodges said, was a Union soldier who, a visitor pointed out, appeared in a photograph to have a hole in the middle of his forehead.
The man named Miller, in fact, was shot between his eyes at the Battle of Chickamauga, was dragged off the battlefield, was in time brought back to Chattanooga with the retreating Union Army and was eventually shipped back to his Indiana home, he said. At each juncture, he was told nothing could be done, and he was expected to die. In Indiana, though, he did receive treatment. In time, two bullets fell out of the hole in his forehead, and he lived to the age of 81.
Hodges also has an original peace pipe from the 1889 barbecue that gathered some 20,000 former Union and Confederate soldiers near the Chickamauga, Ga., area where they had fought each other 26 years earlier. It was thought to be the largest gathering of former Civil War soldiers ever held.
The event's sense of camaraderie led to a joint agreement by the fledgling Chickamauga Battlefield Association to seek congressional appropriations to create a national military park that would have monuments honoring both sides. An August 1890 act of Congress established Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and in 1895 the battlefield was dedicated.
Their work created the path that we can be thankful preservationists still walk today.