Chickamauga Battlefield to Mark 150th Anniv. in Sept. 2013

On September 18-20 149 years ago, Confederate and Union forces clashed near Chattanooga, Tenn., in what proved to be one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles. More than 35,000 soldiers were wounded and killed.

The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is commemorating the battle this week with a series of talks, guided walks and demonstrations, including the firing of reproduction cannons.

If you’ve never visited the park, consider a trip for September 2013, when the park will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle. There will be a slew of activities:

September 14-15: Walk the battlefield and experience events from the years 1860 to 1863, including the election year debates (1860), recruitment (1861), civilians on the battlefield (1862) and battle action (1863).

September 20: The park will hold a re-dedication of the Lytle Monument, and on September 21 there will be an evening concert at the Wilder Brigade Monument.

October 9-12: The park will host a symposium titled “Occupation and Liberation”

November 23-24: The park will present special events for the anniversary of the Battles for Chattanooga.

Here’s a post from 2011 about our visit to Chickamauga Battlefield….

On a muggy August morning, my watch read 10:05 when I hiked into a forest thicket on the Chickamauga Battlefield and found a small clearing. I suddenly stood before a tall stack of cannon balls that were melded together forming a tall pyramid as black as tar. A white plaque on the pyramid noted that Confederate Brigadier General Benjamin Helm died on this spot during the battle of Chickamauga in 1863. While the hulking monument looked alien amidst the green woods, what struck me most was that the plaque noted not only the day of Helm’s death – Sept. 20 – but also the time – “About 10 a.m.”

I wondered if Helm had stood in the same high temperatures and peered through the same tangled forest that surrounded me. If you hike through the Chickamauga Battlefield, you’ll encounter an extraordinary number of monuments with interesting details that really help give visitors a sense of what took place here. During a long day hike around the battlefield, I encountered markers made of metal and stone that included details on where soldiers fell, exactly how they were wounded or killed and the specific hours of the day that troops occupied a certain patch of ground.

It’s not totally surprising that this battlefield is rich with monuments, because it was a significant encounter. Civil War historian Shelby Foote wrote that the battle of Chickamauga, fought in September of 1863, was “not only the greatest battle of the West, but would also be, for the number engaged, the bloodiest of the war.” When the fighting ended on this 5,200-acre plot of land on the Tennessee/Georgia border, the number of wounded and killed included 16,710 Union soldiers and 18,454 Confederate soldiers.

This was a big battle, on a sprawling landscape, and you could spend days wandering its vast system of trails that wind through tangled forest and traverse great fields of green. You’ll want to begin at the battlefield’s excellent visitor center to get ideas on what type of trek will suit your schedule. But if you’re up for a longer walk, consider the Memorial Trail hike, which I took.

Developed by the Boy Scouts, the Memorial Trail covers about 8.5 miles and highlights one the battle’s unique aspects – the great number of high-ranking officers killed. You’ll not only visit the monument for Helm (who, by the way, was Abraham Lincoln’s brother-in-law), but also pass markers for other interesting figures like Union Colonel Hans C. Heg. Born in Norway, Heg immigrated to America with his family in 1840, and he died in one of the battle’s bloodiest engagements – near LaFayette Road – after being shot in the abdomen. Further on, you’ll find the monument for Union Brigadier General William H. Lytle, who was a lawyer and poet, and died while leading an attack on horseback.

Helm Cemetery

Certainly, an 8- or 9-mile hike is an all-day affair, but there are a number of roads and connecting trails that allow you to shorten the journey and walk back to the visitor center. If you have time, try to visit the Hunt Cemetery located at the southern edge of the battlefield grounds. With graves dating back to the 1800s, this small family cemetery holds the remains of Helm Hunt and other family members. Helm owned 280 acres on what is now the battlefield, and his home was used as a hospital during the fighting.

Traveler’s Notebook

  • In mid September, it can be hot at Chickamauga, so take plenty of water if you hike the trails. Also pack food, as there are no concessions scattered about the property.
  • The visitor center has two excellent trail maps: “Chickamauga Battlefield Trail Guide” and “Chickamauga and Chattanooga Military Park”
  • For info on events, click here for the battlefield website, or call 706-866-9241.
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