Roy Exum: Taste Our History Today

Monday, October 28, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It was on this very day, long ago, that a group of stern-faced men rode their athletic horses across the table top of Lookout Mountain, up towards the Point. They were searching intensely for a small path leading down the western bluff. Pete, one of two riders in front, looked at the other and spouted, “Brax, have you fallen and hit your head? We’ve been doing stupid stuff lately but this is just out-and out dumb. There ain’t no Signal Rock or Sunset Rock anywhere around.”

“Pete, hush your grousing and keep looking. You just keep on and I may do the world a mighty favor and push you off of it when we get there! We got to find it,” the somber man answered, weaving his horse through the trees and around the huge boulders that are ageless reminders of The Great Earthquake of 1812.

“Did you see the look on that scout’s face when he told you about this rock-of-all-rocks? It was clear to me he regarded you like you were about three inches south of ignorant! The only rocks we should worry about are in your head!” Pete fired back, trying to avoid briars on his fabled horse “Hero” as the other riders delighted in the diatribe blessed by the late-morning sun.

“Over here,” yelled an out-rider. “I think this is it!” he said, reining his horse away from an uncommon opening that was partially hidden by saplings.

“Can we ride down it?” yelled Brax and Pete rolled his eyes. “Try and you’ll die, old son!” As Pete jumped off Hero to tether him, the others also dismounted and Pete hollered at Brax. “Don’t forget your telescope. It’s in your sack next to that bottle of whiskey that is now about half as full as you think it is!”

“If you been in my whiskey, I’ll throw you off this rock instead of push you,” promised Brax as the men began to scramble down the short-but-steep trail and sucked in their breath as “the rock” they had been promised suddenly gave way to the most stunning view of the valley below any had ever seen.

* * *

On October 28, 1863, a group of Confederate officers, led by General Braxton Bragg and James “Pete” Longstreet, walked only two-tenths of a mile to stand on what is today Sunset Rock. They were there on purpose and through their copper telescopes they watched with worry as their former West Point classmate, Joe Hooker, brought his huge Army of the Potomac towards Lookout Valley from the south.

I can only imagine that the good-natured jokes and jabs that always seem to accompany men on horseback gave way to drawn faces, cigars you gnaw rather than light, and a call for maps that showed the latest troop positions. On the vast valley floor they watched as 15,000 men, hundreds of horses and mule-drawn wagons and cannons advanced. What a sight it must have been!

The Rebs already knew that Ulysses S. Grant had gotten into town the weekend before, replacing William Rosecrans after the Confederate victory at Chickamauga. They had also just been told that the night before Baldy Smith had floated a group of pontoon boats down the Tennessee River through the dark and the fog past Confederate sentries to build a bridge at Brown’s Ferry that would almost immediately snap the siege of Chattanooga and open up "the Cracker Line."

So as the officers watched Hooker move his men directly towards that now-secured pontoon bridge, (which they could also see to the right of Sunset Rock) it became evident the time for conflict was nigh. The way I’ve got to believe what happened here 150 years ago, it was right about then that Bragg looked at Longstreet to say simply. “Tonight at midnight we attack at Wauhatchie,” setting the stage for a rare night battle in the Civil War.

Whether my imagination intrigues you doesn’t really matter. I’ve been to Sunset Rock all my life but Sunday morning before church the quiet place came to life as never before. This is the day. Scooter and I live not a stone’s throw away and what you see today is the top of a Big Walmart, I-24 as it snakes towards Georgia, and quite nearly 100 percent more houses and hotels than those Confederate officers did when they studied the valley in 1863.

Of course, there aren’t two armies with leather-tough fighters getting ready to fight at midnight, either, but the wide view, the big rock’s floor, and the changing leaves on the trees still lends stunning testimony of a time that shaped and formed our nation.

If you want to feel it, to smell the air like Bragg and Longstreet did on an Oct. 28 long ago, I urge you to take a moment today and stand on Sunset Rock. It’s easy to find, free of charge and thrilling in an historical way. (Wear lace-up shoes with soles that won’t slip on rocks; no one wants to fall off!)

Directions: Go up Lookout Mountain via Scenic Highway (past Ruby Falls) and go straight at the top. When you get to the stone fountain right before the Commons, veer to the right and the road will morph into West Brow Road. The Sunset Rock parking area will be on the left, just before the 400 block begins, and with the weather forecast perfect, you may have to find parking on a side street. The Park Service closes Sunset Road at sundown.

Where Is The Highway Patrol?

I am teaching my 15-year-old to drive in the North Georgia and Chattanooga area. I have warned her of the dangers of exceeding the speed limit both as a hazard to herself and in terms of receiving a ticket. What a liar I am.  Have you driven on the local freeways and highways recently? I never see any highway patrolmen helping to reduce speeding or pulling over those who ... (click for more)

Why I Am Voting For Esther Helton

I retired from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, with 37 years of state service in 2015. I graduated from East Ridge High School in 1969 and raised my son in this community. I am proud to be from East Ridge. Several months ago, I decided to learn more about East Ridge leadership by attending the City Council meetings. At the meetings, I met ... (click for more)

Mayor Berke, Lacie Stone Were At Swanky New York City Hotel While Bobby Stone Was Plying The River

Mayor Andy Berke's top advisor Lacie Stone accompanied him on a trip to New York City on April 12-13 and they ended up at a swanky spot where Ms. Stone's husband, Bobby, had taken her before. They sat at the Stones' favorite table.   Bobby Stone, who has accused his wife of having an affair with the mayor, has said that Lacie Stone told him that she and the mayor kissed ... (click for more)

Fire Displaces Family Of 7; Blaze Ruled Accidental

No injuries were reported in connection with a house fire on Saturday afternoon that displaced a family of seven. The Chattanooga Fire Department received the alarm at 4:11 p.m. and responded to 3308 Dodson Ave. with five fire companies. Captain Wadie Suttles with Engine 4 said heavy fire was showing when the first firefighters arrived on the scene. As additional firefighters ... (click for more)

UTC Defeats VMI, 30-13; Mocs Seniors Gain 34th Career Win

UTC junior running back Richardre Bagley rushed for a career-high 189 yards and two touchdowns to lead the host Mocs to a 30-13 Southern Conference win against VMI at Finley Stadium before 10, 505 fans. "It's a huge confidence booster," Bagley said. "All credit goes to our great offensive line and receivers blocking down field. The coaches did a great job preparing us. Everyone ... (click for more)

Goetz Outlasts Huwe To Win Signal Mountain Pie Run

The annual Signal Mountain Pie Run is one of those races where you don’t have to be the first across the finish line to be the overall winner. It’s a prediction run, so the runner getting nearest his or her predicted time was honored with cash prizes. Gregg Sutton crossed the line next to the old Signal Mountain Junior High with a time of 46 minutes flat, which was exactly ... (click for more)