Friday, April 1, 2016

BUCKET LIST UPDATE No. 269: Visit the Chickamauga National Military Park

Chickamauga is a place that I’ve wanted to visit ever since I was a small boy. When I was in the fourth grade, I learned that two of my third-great grandfathers fought for the Confederacy at the Battle of Chickamauga during the Civil War. When I wrote out my first bucket list several years ago, a visit to Chickamauga was one of the first things I put on the list.

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought on Sept. 19-Sept. 20, 1863 near Chickamauga Creek in northwest Georgia, not far from where the three states of Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama come together. During the battle, around 65,000 soldiers in the Army of Tennessee, under the command of General Braxton Bragg, collided with around 60,000 soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland, which was commanded by General William Rosecrans. The battle ended in a Confederate victory, but it came at a high cost.

Confederate casualties amount to 18,454 with 2,312 killed against 16,170 Union casualties, of which 1,657 were killed. I’ve always been somewhat morbidly fascinated with the idea that one well-aimed piece of hot Yankee lead could have not only killed one of my Confederate ancestors, but could have also wiped out pretty much everyone in my family tree. I guess you could say that good fortune was on our side that day.

The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which encompasses 9,036 acres, was established on Aug. 19, 1890 and was officially dedicated in September 1895. My son and I set out for this park early on Monday and arrived there around 11 a.m. local time. Our first top was the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center, near the north entrance to the park.

Inside the visitor center, we checked out everything they had on display, including the impressive collection of firearms there. We also watched a 26-minute movie about the park, and it was so good, my son actually wanted to watch it again. Before leaving, one of the park attendants gave us a map to the park, which showed us how to take a driving tour of the battlefield.

The driving tour featured eight numbered stops, including the Brotherton Cabin, the Wilder Brigade Monument and Snodgrass Hill. Something else you can’t help but notice all along the tour are the seemingly hundreds of monuments and memorials to various Union and Confederate units and important individuals. Some monuments marked where important soldiers were mortally wounded and other monuments memorialized soldiers from entire states who fought and died at Chickamauga.

To me, the most impressive monument was the Wilder Brigade Monument, which resembled a giant-sized rook piece from a chess set. Erected in 1885, this tower is 85 feet tall with 136 steps leading to the top, where you’ll find an observation deck. My son and I climbed it, and my feeling is you could see into Tennessee and Alabama from the top. It also gives you a commanding view of the battle field below.

After completing the driving tour, my son and I decided to drive the entire driving tour route again, but this time without stopping at each of the eight stops. We were able to drive the route in a relatively short amount of time, and this seemed to reinforce what we’d seen earlier during the tour. Before leaving, we stopped at the visitor center again to check it out once more.

As far as “bucket list” items go, the visit to Chickamauga was a “biggie” for me. I’ve wanted to see this battlefield for myself for years, and I gained no small amount of satisfaction from not only seeing it myself, but for also being able to take my son there. I hope he remembers it for a long, long time.

In the end, how many of you have visited the Chickamauga National Military Park? What did you think about it? What other Civil War sites would you recommend visiting? Let us know in the comments section below.

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