Jim Ogden, an acclaimed Civil War historian and ranger at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, captured and held the attention of a large crowd at St. Paul's Episcopal Church Wednesday evening, where he was the featured speaker for "Churches Under Siege: Chattanooga 1863." Also sharing the program were six people representing the six churches in Chattanooga in 1863, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopal and Cumberland Presbyterian, who told of the experiences of their church in wartime. The program, one of several in observance of the 150 year celebration of the Civil War, was organized by Jim Frierson of St. Paul's.
Mr. Ogden began his talk with background about Chattanooga in 1863. Early in that year, Chattanooga was occupied by Confederates. Much of the community effort was involved in providing hospital care for an expected influx of wounded. Hospitals were created, including a 500-bed hospital on the side of Cameron Hill.
The eyes of the nation were focused on Chattanooga, Mr. Ogden said, because both North and South recognized it was important as the gateway of supplies to both armies. Chattanooga and its churches became a front line when Union cannon fire bombarded the town while residents were gathered at the Presbyterian Church for prayer. Most of the residents left with few members left for the churches.
A drought, which had left the unpaved street in dust, was broken in September and the street became mud. On Sept. 9, the Union occupied Chattanooga and began immediately to prepare for an anticipated 4,000 wounded. The town was flooded with military uniforms and equipment and the churches were taken over by the military for hospitals or war equipment storage. Most sustained extensive damage.
On Sept. 20, a flood of wounded filled the town with wounded from the battle at Chickamauga. In addition to churches and buildings and the hospital on Cameron Hill, there was also a tent hospital. As many as possible were quickly moved out of Chattanooga to make way for the incoming injured.
In October, with the arrival of U.S. Grant in Chattanooga, he redeemed the situation of the Union. He organized the effort which broke the stranglehold held by Confederates on the town and was able to turn the tide in Chattanooga.
As the war moved on and the hospitals were cleared with only 800 downtown, some of the churches were then used to store military guns. It was, Mr. Ogden said, "homage to the gods of war, rather than the God of the churches."