Let me just get this out of the way. My usual reaction to Civil War history is typically “meh.” In fact, that’s my reaction to history of warfare in general (with the exception of World War II). You see, I just think war is stupid. Most of the wars I’ve studied seem to be situations of “Hey, that country has some land we want, let’s go shoot some people and take it!” or “Hey, those people are Catholic and they ought to be Protestant, let’s go make them convert, and if they won’t, let’s kill them!” And so on. I’m being a bit dramatic, but you get the picture. So I think my husband (who loves military history) was shocked when I suggested we go visit the Battle of Chickamauga National Military Park near Chattanooga, TN (the actual location is Ft. Oglethorpe, GA very close to the Tennessee state line). The Battle of Chickamauga took place over two days, September 19–20, 1863. The National Military Park provides a brief description of the battle and its significance:
In 1863, Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Chattanooga, known as the “Gateway to the Deep South.” The Confederates were victorious at nearby Chickamauga in September. However, renewed fighting in Chattanooga that November provided Union troops victory and control of the city. After the fighting, a Confederate soldier ominously wrote, “This…is the death-knell of the Confederacy.”
The death toll in the battle was horrific: over 34,000 men died. The only other battle worse in terms of casualties during the war was the Battle of Gettysburg (with over 51,000 men killed).
I recently started to read a book about the Civil War called The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South. It’s not about battles, or generals, or soldiers (at least not so far), it’s more about societal norms that led to the war and then societal changes occurred as a result of the war. The changes in society were enormous. I’m looking forward to getting further into the book to better understand this era.
So, even though I usually am not terribly interested in Civil War history, I knew there were several huge battles near my home, and it seemed like it would be interesting to go visit one of the battlefield parks near us. I stumbled across some information about Chickamauga and I was curious about what it’s like. On Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, we headed to the park.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d looked at the web page and sort of thought there would be a visitor’s center, a few outdoor exhibits, and some hiking trails. We we got there, I was amazed at the size of the park. It’s huge! Plus, Civil War re-enactors shot off a cannon while we were there! The cannon is beautiful. Of course, it’s weird to say that because the whole point of a cannon during the Civil War wasn’t for ceremony or show, it was to kill or terrify soldiers fighting for the other side.