Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. and Chattanooga, Tenn. Visited: December 16, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 127 of 353 NPS Website
WHAT IS IT? The Site consists of two separate Parks commemorating two different battles. The Chickamauga Battlefield remembers of one of the bloodiest battles of the U.S. Civil War. The Battle of Lookout Mountain, fought a month later on October 28, 1863, was less bloody but solidified Union control of Chattanooga. The Site was designated as the first United States Military Park in 1895, the thirtieth anniversary of the War’s end.
BEAUTY (6/10) Lookout Mountain offers an unobstructed view of the city of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River, giving meaning to the little dots of light on Chickamauga’s electronic map.
Chickamauga’s Visitor Center is spacious and well-designed, opting for large print displays and high ceilings rather than claustrophobic displays that we have seen at other sites which try to do too much in too little space.
The Battlefield at Chickamauga NMP is home to over one thousand marble reminders of the individuals who lost their lives and the states from whence they came. Varying in shape and size, the largest offering a seasonal observation tower, these monuments have been the victims of vandalism and centerpieces of debate since they were erected. Public and private funds are spent on their maintenance every year. Whether you feel it is the least NPS can do for these veterans or an unwise expenditure, the obelisks, plaques and sculptures shape the Military Park and all others since.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10) Nearly 35,000 of the 115,000 Americans that fought at Chickamauga either lost their lives or were seriously wounded. The Union victory, assured later at Lookout Mountain, gave the North a toehold into the Deep South and allowed for Sherman’s push through Georgia. Control of Chattanooga proved to be a vital strategic advantage, one that facilitated the Civil War’s eventual outcome.
Perhaps even more historically interesting than the September 19-20 Battle is the way that the Park has been preserved. From 1890 through 1895, Northern and Southern veterans returned to the Battleground and meticulously placed over 1,400 monuments to regiments, soldiers and officers in the exact places that fighting occurred and men fell. Chickamauga served as the model for Civil War remembrance and has been imitated at Gettysburg, Shiloh and Vicksburg.
CROWDS (6/10) We expected larger crowds at Civil War-related sites and here we found them. Even on a Thursday afternoon, the Site had a good share of visitors. While it is nice to see people interested in history, perhaps they could not read the exhibit panels aloud with an outside voice.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The two Battlefields are not nearly as accessible as they appear especially since they both lie within the city limits of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. If you plan to visit both areas, plan an entire day.
The Chickamauga Battlefield can be approached from both the north (Tennessee) and the east (Georgia). From Tennessee take Interstate 24, Exit 180B and go south along U.S. Route 27 (Rossville Boulevard then LaFayette Road). In about five miles, you will pass through old town Fort Oglethorpe and into the Park. From Georgia, take Interstate 75, Exit 350 and go west along Georgia Route 2 (Battlefield Parkway). In about five miles, turn left onto LaFayette Road and into the Park. Both ways are clearly marked.
The Chickamauga Battlefield has a seven-mile driving tour that takes you through the myriad monuments that mark every minuscule thing that happened during the battle. Reading them all would take forever.
The route to the Lookout Mountain Battlefield is much more problematic. As the crow flies, the Visitor Center is less than a mile from Interstate 24. In practice, it could take you about a half hour to get from the Interstate to the Site. Tennessee Route 148 (at this point named Scenic Highway) steadies up the side of the mountain and levels off through a posh residential neighborhood (road now named East Brow Road) until it gets to the Visitor Center.
Good luck getting onto Route 148. The entrance from U.S. Route 11 (also called 41/72 and 11/64 and Lee Highway!) is especially dicey. If you are approaching from the west on Route 11, you come around a blind curve and then have to make a near U-Turn to get on Route 148 (the Scenic Highway). From the east, you can at least see the left turn uphill but you have to make that turn across traffic with cars speeding around previously mentioned blind curve. Pick your poison.
Whatever you do, go to Chickamauga first. It is the more comprehensive of the two sites and the provided NPS brochure has a detailed map and suggested a travel path to Lookout Mountain.
CONCESSIONS/ BOOKSTORE (5/5) An entire wall full of books written specifically about the Battle of Chickamauga. Who knew that these even existed? The bookstore’s vast selection of Chickamauga books even made us reconsider this Site as a more important historical location. During our visit, a few people bought an impressive companion to the Auto Tour; a fully illustrated Chickamauga guide that comes with a CD-Rom that narrates the battle and gives you a Civil War encyclopedia and computer screen savers.
The selection of Civil War books is huge. The canonized texts are all here as is an entire wall of nicely priced Dover Thrift editions that include Booker T. Washington’sUp from Slavery and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage. There is an alcove of children’s books, Johnny Reb dolls and movable action fictions, miniature Chickamauga monument recreations, maps and DVD’s; probably every Civil War-related thing you could ever want.
COSTS (3/5) The Chickamauga Battlefield charges $3 ($1.50 with NPS Parks Pass) to see its multi-media “Battle of Chickamauga” introductory video. Everything else at Chickamauga is free.
Lookout Mountain Battlefield charges $3 for entry into Point Park, a small mountaintop park that offers beautiful views of Chattanooga and access to the New York Peace Memorial.
Entry into all other parts of the Park is free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) A few Rangers rotated at the centrally located information desk. One seemed bothered to answer Michael’s James Garfield at Chickamauga question while the other, his Gen. James Longstreet-style beard indicated he may be a re-enactor, was very helpful.
TOURS/CLASSES (8/10) The exhibits at the newly remodeled Chickamauga Battlefield are tremendous. The panels that line the lobby walls look at the broad historical factors that led to the Civil War with a balanced analytical perspective. We loved their large print, well chosen wordage and helpful timelines. Chickamauga was the ideal Park to begin our foray into Civil War Sites.
Other panels in the lobby look at the development of the Military Park itself and the unique way that Americans honor those who died in the Civil War. Two separate rooms look at the events that led up to the Battle and the Battle itself. Michael loves electric maps and was pleased to find one at Chickamauga. A third room showcases thousands of standard-issue Civil War-era rifles.
The $3 orientation show is strangely interesting but not an educational must-see. It includes a multi-screen slide show, surround sound, holographic spectral images of a Union and Confederate soldier and a spring-loaded natural background set. While fascinating in its own right, the Museum panels and electric map do a much better job at explaining the Battle.
The only exhibit at Lookout Mountain is an imposing 13x30 foot painting entitled, appropriately enough, “The Battle of Lookout Mountain.” While inside the studio, you can push a button that starts a seven-minute narrative about the painting.
FUN (8/10) Was it the sunny day, forcing us to get out of the ‘Tima and take a walk? Was it watching the ratio of maroon sweatshirts and jackets of Montana Grizzlies fans steadily increase in the VC and eventually overtake the town of Chattanooga for the I-AA Championship happening later that week? Or was it spending time appreciating the work that Chickamauga has done to modernize their interpretation of these Civil War events that made the day so enjoyable? Probably all of the above.
We spent much more time at and traveling between the two sites than we expected, but we didn’t mind.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10) Although not the first battles of the Civil War, Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP provides a good primer for even the youngest history student. Interpretive panels at Chickamauga do not shy away from controversial topics, nor do they lean very far in either side’s favor. Anyone who thinks you need big words to convey complex material could learn from the simplicity of Chickamauga’s new displays.
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