Edmund Pettus, an Historical Figure of Both Selma and Chattanooga

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - by John Shearer
General Edmund Pettus
General Edmund Pettus

When students of American history hear the name Edmund Pettus, they might think of the bridge at Selma, Ala., named for him.

At that site in 1965, civil rights marchers were attacked by state troopers while beginning a walk to Montgomery to demand better voting rights for African-Americans. The event infamously became known as Bloody Sunday.

However, a century earlier, Edmund Pettus was on Lookout Mountain in another bloody event that also dealt with Americans trying to resolve disharmony – the Civil War.

Although his name is not often mentioned in Chattanooga as much as some of the more familiar commanding generals like Ulysses S. Grant or Braxton Bragg, he was still here as a Confederate brigadier general.

In fact, a historical marker at Point Park mentions his name.

Born in 1821 in Alabama, Edmund Winston Pettus attended Clinton College in Smith County, Tenn. A veteran of the Mexican-American War, he also served as a lawyer and judge.

When the Civil War broke out, the 40-year-old volunteered with the Confederacy. He served at Stones River and Vicksburg and was promoted to brigadier general and given command of the Army of Tennessee shortly before the battles in Chattanooga in November 1863.

On the day of the Battle of Lookout Mountain on Nov. 24, his brigade was said to have performed nobly, as it moved down from the top of the mountain and became engaged in conflict around the Cravens House.

The Confederates had held Chattanooga under siege since the Battle of Chickamauga two months earlier, and the Lookout Mountain battle was one of the beginning efforts by the Union to take control of Chattanooga.

Because of its railroads and the Tennessee River, Chattanooga was considered important logistically to control by the Union.

The battle of Lookout Mountain was fought under foggy conditions and Gen. Pettus remarked later of having trouble seeing.

However, what was clear, at least to historians later, was that the Confederates had little chance to beat the Union forces at Lookout Mountain.

Gen. Pettus and the others were said to have done a good job holding off the others as long as they did, despite the fact that the division commander, Brig. Gen. John Jackson, reportedly did not help adequately.

Gen. Pettus was sent later that day to the extreme Southern slope of Missionary Ridge and fought in equally futile action there on Nov. 25.

He also fought against Gen. Sherman around Atlanta.

By all accounts, he was a very brave and distinguished military leader.

In 1897, more than 30 years after the Civil War ended, he was elected as a U.S. senator from Alabama. He was said to be the last Confederate military commander to serve in Congress.

He continued as a senator until his death in 1907 while vacationing in Hot Springs, N.C., just across the state line from Newport, Tenn.

He was buried in Selma.

The bridge named for him was constructed in 1940.

It later helped carry civil rights marchers to the mountaintop, but in 1863, Gen. Edmund Pettus had literally enjoyed his own mountaintop experience fighting ably for the Confederacy on Lookout Mountain.


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