Green Space and Glory—Land&People
Donald Tatum looks handsome in his blue Union uniform, and his passion for reenacting the history of black soldiers who fought in the American Civil War is almost palpable. An administrative law judge for the Tennessee Department of Labor by day, Mr. Tatum moonlights as quartermaster sergeant of the 44th Tennessee U.S. Colored Troops, Company E. “We are trying to teach the kids that it wasn’t just northerners who came down here during the Civil War,” he says proudly. “Blacks wanted to and did fight for their own freedom, too.”
As the name implies, reenactors like Tatum dress in authentic uniforms, carry vintage weapons, and reenact Civil War battles. They also share their love of history by participating in living-history encampments, educational presentations, and ceremonial events such as parades.
Chattanooga, where Tatum lives, is fertile ground for such activity, as it was the site of an important campaign on the Civil War’s western front. In the fall of 1863, Confederate troops defeated Union forces at Chickamauga, Georgia, pushing them back 15 miles into Chattanooga-then a community of 3,500 people surrounded by mountains and nestled into a broad loop of the Tennessee River known as Moccasin Bend. Occupying the high ground of Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, east and south of the city, the Confederates laid siege to the city until Union troops retook these vantages.
Tatum’s interest in the Civil War began when he was a boy living near Orchard Knob, a unit of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, which protects many of the sites associated with the Chattanooga Campaign. Orchard Knob is where General Ulysses S. Grant maintained his headquarters during the battle for Missionary Ridge. Today, Chattanooga has grown into a modern city of more than 150,000, and Orchard Knob is an island of open space in the middle of a working-class neighborhood.
Authorized by Congress in 1890 at the request of Union and Confederate veterans, the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is the nation’s oldest and largest national military park, totaling more than 9,000 acres in eighteen units and receiving nearly a million visitors each year.
Like similar battlefield parks, this one provides more than much-needed open space and a chance to interpret for the public a wrenching chapter in the nation’s story. The visitors the parks attract fuel local jobs and other economic benefits. Despite this, un-protected Civil War battlefields are currently being developed at the rate of 30 acres per day, their historic, open space, and economic benefits lost forever. In Chattanooga and elsewhere, agencies, legislators, communities, historical conservation groups such as the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), and conservation groups such as the Trust for Public Land are working together to stave off such development and set aside more battlefield sites as parks.
In Chattanooga, under the guidance of field office director Bobby Davenport, TPL has helped add 12 properties totaling more than 200 acres to the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park since 1999. “These are places that really should be part of the park,” Davenport says. “When we hear from a park historian about a property of historic importance, we do everything we can to protect it.”
The Rewards of Heritage Tourism
While Donald Tatum was playing on Chattanooga’s Orchard Knob, John Culpepper, another Civil War reenactor, spent his youth exploring the Chickamauga Battlefield, also a unit of the military park. His ancestors fought on the Confederate side, and that’s usually what he reenacts today, but he has also played Union soldiers. Culpepper is the city manager of Chickamauga, a town of 2,400. He sees two kinds of green in battlefields -the grassy open spaces themselves and the money brought to communities by battlefield visitors, or so-called heritage tourists. Culpepper hopes to create a Civil War driving tour that invites visitors to “follow your ancestor’s footsteps to the Battle of Chickamauga.” Historic parks, Culpepper points out, are permanent economic resources, unlike factories and businesses, which can be closed and moved somewhere else.
“The heritage tourist is the highest category of tourist in terms of education and income and how much they spend and how long they stay,” says Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), which has helped save more than 21,000 acres of Civil War battlefields in 19 states.
In 2003, CWPT hired an independent research firm to assess the impact of tourism at 13 Civil War battlefield sites. The study found that nonlocal visitors had an average household income of $65,053, about 50 percent above the national median ($43,318). The number of college graduates among them was twice the national average. Such visitors annually spend $121 million in and around the Gettysburg National Military Park, the study found. They support 2,653 local jobs-not including jobs in the park itself-and generate $17 million in local and state tax revenue. Results were similar at other Civil War parks.
Heritage tourists at Civil War sites include serious students of the war, such as Bob George, from Covington, Virginia, who recently toured the Chickamauga Battle-field with his wife, Barbara. “We’re doing the western battlefields,” says George. The couple had spent a month on the road and had already visited six other battlefield sites in the western theater of the Civil War.
Other visitors are attracted by a family connection to the battlefields. “Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t come in and say ‘My great-grandfather was at Chickamauga with this particular regiment,’ says
Pat Reed, superintendent of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. “They want to stand on the ground where their forefathers fought. There is something associated with that sense of place. To stand on the actual ground. The quality of experience can’t be gotten anyplace else.”
Fortunately, it is relatively easy for rangers to direct visitors to such ground. Soon after the park was established, Union and Confederate veterans began placing monuments marking the spots where their units saw the fiercest combat. The battlefield also contains hundreds of metal plaques detailing troop movements.
Even frequent visitors will sometimes discover a family connection on a battlefield. This was the case with local resident Stephen Barry, whose wife, Jane, found a family surname on a plaque at Chickamauga Battlefield. Researching the name led Barry to a great-great uncle, Confederate Lt. A. J. Chalaron-now known in the family as “Uncle Adolph”-and a new interest in Civil War history. Researching further, Barry learned that his great-grandfather had fought with the Confederate army at Gettysburg. And he learned that his wife’s great-grandfather had fought there as well- on the Union side. Barry and his son and grandson have since visited Gettysburg National Military Park to pursue the family connections.
Growing Chattanooga’s Military Park
“It is a perfect place from which to interpret Sherman’s attack on Missionary Ridge,” says park historian Jim Ogden. Ogden is speaking of 48-acre Billy Goat Hill, where troops under Union General William T. Sherman encamped before attacking the Confederates on Missionary Ridge. TPL is currently working to add this land to the park, combining a landowner donation and funds from a National Park Service grant to the Civil War Preservation Trust. Ogden visualizes making the historical connections for visitors between Billy Goat Hill and the existing park reservations: Orchard Knob and Sherman’s Reservation. “We have the potential for a nice historical park in this very urban area,” Ogden said.
But the National Park Service can’t simply acquire historically significant properties as they become available. Before that can occur, Congress must appropriate funds to the agency for the acquisition, and in some cases pass legislation to authorize acquisitions or expand a park’s boundaries before funding is approved. TPL’s role is to work with willing sellers to ensure that the land is available for acquisition, with Congress to secure the necessary funding, and with all parties to complete the transaction.
A key supporter of park additions has been U.S. Congressman from Tennessee Zach Wamp, who frequently has helped generate federal funding. “TPL has played a valuable role in this work,” Wamp says. “They come and say, ‘We have a willing seller of a property within the park or on its edge.’ A dozen times in the last 11 years we’ve been able to protect some strategic site or asset this way. It’s environmental stewardship, historic preservation. It helps tourism, protects water. These are multiple public benefits.”
The new 900-acre Moccasin Bend Archeological District, a park addition just across the river from downtown Chattanooga, is particularly close to Wamp’s heart. The district, to which TPL helped add two parcels in 2003, aims to interpret both the Civil War and Native American history. In the late 1830s, Moccasin Bend was the staging ground for what became known as the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of 17,000 Native Americans from their homes in Georgia and Tennessee to the Oklahoma Territory. Later, during the Civil War, the bend was part of the “Cracker Line,” a Union supply corridor that was crucial to breaking the Confederate siege of the city. Bivouac pads where Union soldiers pitched their tents in 1863 are clearly visible and evoke the troops’ presence for today’s visitors in a moving and personal way. For Wamp, who is part Cherokee and descended from the commander of a Civil War Confederate battalion, both histories are important.
“When you stand at places like Moccasin Bend, and you know that there are civilizations upon civilizations buried beneath your feet, it becomes a spiritual thing,” he says, “because you feel connected to the history of mankind.”
Freelance writer and editor Pat Wilcox was formerly the Times Editorial Page editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.