Open Sherman Reservation

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, Canadian author Steve Carter of Vancouver, British Columbia, visited Chattanooga with his wife Daphne.  A large part of the reason for his visit was to lay eyes on the actual physical settings for a book he is writing as a sequel to the just published pre-Civil War era novel The Cauldron.  He’d first contacted me several months ago with questions regarding the local area, intent on getting details as accurate as possible.  For instance, asking the name of the street along the river from Ross’ Landing around Cameron Hill in the late 19th century (River Street or Water Street depending on the map).

The next novel in the series covers the war years and the following decades.  We drove the crest of Missionary Ridge, noting the signs and placements of units, stopped at the Bragg Reservation and looked out over the city.  We also went by the Orchard Knob Reservation, drove by the Read House (former site of the Crutchfield House), and visited Fountain Square.  With all of which Steve was greatly impressed.

There was one huge disappointment, however.  The site Steve most wanted to see was all but unavailable.  Unavailable to someone like him with a physical condition of any kind, like his pacemaker.  The site in question is the one at which the major part of the action of the Battle of Missionary Ridge took place, from sunrise until around two in the afternoon.  That site is Sherman’s Reservation, unilaterally blocked off by the City of Chattanooga several years ago after it received an unsubstantiated reports of illegal activity there.

Yes, the city provided a tiny parking area to one side of Lightfoot Mill Road where it comes west over the ridge from South Chickamauga Creek.  But the pathetic excuse for a parking area is on the opposite side of the street from the entrance to the path through the woods to Sherman’s Reservation on a curve and almost blind hill.  The path through the woods is well-kept and marked, or at least was the last time I was there, but it is also one-quarter mile long and uphill, too much for a man with a pace-maker who doesn’t want to include a visit to the emergency room, or morgue, on his visit to the city.  Or a man suffering from emphysema.

Before vehicular access to this highly significant portion of Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park was impeded, there was a drive along the side of the ridge and several monuments giving the visitor a good idea of the hazards troops from both sides faced in the battle there. 

The fighting here at what both sides called Tunnel Hill (but what locals called Trueblood Hill) was between two brigades of Cleburne’s Division of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, augmented by two brigades of Walker’s Division and Kentucky’s Orphan Brigade defending the position against the troops of Sherman’s Union Army of the Tennessee attacking from their position atop Billy Goat Hill. 

After Cleburne’s men repulsed assault after assault from their strong position and with their general’s brilliant tactical placement, Gen. Grant sent Gen. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland to assault the ridge across Chattanooga Valley, and it is that action which led to the Union sweep of the ridge, everywhere except for Cleburne’s position.  Ironically, at the same time Thomas’ troops were routing everything before them, Cleburne’s ad hoc command was making its final counterattack to halt Sherman’s attempts to take his position. 

In fact, the soldiers of his division and the units of Walker’s Division on-loan were sitting down to chow and to celebrate their victory when Cleburne received orders to cover the retreat of the Army of Tennessee.  It was around 7:45 pm that evening when the last of Cleburne’s men left the site of their victory and the army’s defeat.

In addition to its unparalleled military history significance, the view from the apex of the hill at Sherman Reservation among the cannons and plaques describing the action there is one of the two most beautiful in the Chattanooga area, second only to that from Sunset Rock on the West Brow of Lookout Mountain.

Surely the situation thought to exist ten years ago which made a previous administration feel it needed to take the actions it did have by now dissipated and disappeared.  Reopening Sherman Reservation to easy popular access will be especially appropriate for the sesquicentennial of the battles here, and it can also allow this important site to serve as a major attraction as part of the redevelopment of the neighborhood now known as Glass Farm District, formerly part of the town of East Chattanooga, originally the suburb of Sherman Heights.

Chuck Hamilton

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