A few soldiers and officers who fought in the Civil War battles at Chattanooga and Chickamauga 150 years ago this year later became even more famous by capitalizing on their military accomplishments to enter the highest level of politics.
Union Gens. James A. Garfield and Ulysses S. Grant, who each later became president, are two who quickly come to mind.
Another veteran – Col. Eli Lilly of the Eli Lilly and Company pharmaceutical manufacturing firm – reached the highest level of corporate success after more modest-but-distinguished military service.
However, his life was not all easy, as he experienced failure and distress along with success in both military and business.
The same could also be said for his time in Chattanooga and Chickamauga during the war.
Born in Baltimore, the young Col. Lilly and his Northern Methodist family eventually settled in Indiana, in part because of their anti-slavery views. After visiting an apothecary and seeing drugs created as a young man, Col. Lilly eventually worked in apprenticeships in the business and studied pharmacology at what became DePauw University.
By 1861, he had opened his own drug store in Greencastle, Ind. That, of course, was also the same year the Civil War broke out.
He joined the Union Army and helped guard the harbor in Baltimore, a not-so-glamorous job. Somewhat frustrated at the lack of action, he resigned his commission and returned home.
The future pharmaceutical manufacturer soon came up with a creative remedy for his inactivity, however, and it was asking Indiana Gov. Oliver Morton if he could form an artillery unit.
While waiting on a response, he began studying artillery tactics, not knowing he would soon get to use them in a place with which he was probably not very familiar -- Chattanooga.
After eventually getting approval by the governor, he began enthusiastically trying to recruit friends and others to join his artillery battery, which was assigned to the Lightning Brigade of future Chattanooga mayor Col. John Wilder, for whom Wilder Tower is named.
Col. Lilly, who was a captain at this time, trained his men to learn how to move and fire fast while keeping up with infantry units. He also used mules to pull former Confederate howitzer cannons.
As his battery moved successfully through Tennessee with Gen. William Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland in an effort to take Chattanooga, he began shelling Chattanooga from across the river on August 21, 1863. It was a day when Confederate soldiers and Chattanooga civilians were enjoying prayer and fasting.
Because of Chattanooga’s importance as a rail center and as a manufacturing center of iron and coke that could be shipped on the Tennessee River, the city was considered valuable in the war.
The bombardment and other tactics eventually forced Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg’s men from Chattanooga.
However, Gen. Bragg, whose Army of Tennessee had fled into North Georgia, was determined to retake Chattanooga. So he decided to attack Gen. Rosecrans’ Army that had followed him into North Georgia.
After some skirmishes, a major two-day battle took place at what became known as Chickamauga on Sept. 19-20, 1863. Col. Lilly’s battery helped slow the breakthrough by the Rebels.
But the Union forces were still forced to retreat back to Chattanooga in this battle won by the Confederates, who were later criticized for not continuing to go after a defeated Union Army in Chattanooga.
A report of the Indiana 18th Light Battery says of the Battle of Chickamauga in a matter-of-fact manner, “Its execution being terrible and more than flesh and blood could withstand.”
Col. Lilly, in his report of what happened after his men fled Chickamauga, wrote, “We now moved to our former position and finally to Chattanooga Valley, five miles from Chattanooga, from which place on the 21st we re-crossed the river and took position at Friar’s Island covering the ford (shallow area where troops could cross).”
Friar’s Island must have been in the Tennessee River near what is now Chickamauga Dam.
His battery was apparently sent elsewhere, but he returned to Chattanooga in time for the Battle of Missionary Ridge on Nov. 25, 1863, when the Union forces easily drove the fleeing Confederates from the ridge and took complete control of Chattanooga again.
Col. Lilly continued to serve for the remainder of the war, including in the skirmishes in the Knoxville area a short time later. However, he eventually became a prisoner of war after being captured by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
After the war, misfortune continued when he unsuccessfully tried to run a plantation and his wife died from a malaria outbreak. After going back to work as a pharmacy employee, he decided to start his own pharmaceutical manufacturing firm in 1876, no doubt having been motivated to aid healthcare through both the malaria outbreak and even the prisoner of war camp.
Using the same tenacity and thought he showed while leading his light artillery battery, he helped pioneer such developments as gelatin capsules to hold medicine and fruit-flavored liquid medicines. He was also an advocate of federal regulation of the pharmaceutical industry.
While his military service had been to try to take lives due to the harsh reality that is war, his work with his company was to save lives.
His business became quite successful and he became a philanthropist.
His grandson by the same name continued to grow the Indianapolis-based company through much of the 20th century.
By the mid-1890s, Col. Lilly was enjoying looking back on his Civil War days. Some further research would probably be required to see if he ever talked in a more anecdotal manner about his time in Chattanooga and Chickamauga specifically or to learn if he ever came to town for the various reunions that started around the late 1880s.
It is known that he liked to use an old map book to tell war stories, and that he was a leader of a Civil War veterans group in the 1890s in Indianapolis, where a museum inside the famous Soldiers and Sailors Monument bears his name.
This man who had plenty of highs and lows in his life would unfortunately have one more misfortune, as he died at age 59 in 1898 from stomach cancer.
Fortunately for readers of American history, however, stories of his accomplishments both on the battlefield and in a research lab continue to live on.