Confessions from Chickamauga: “Taking Chattanooga is as important as taking Richmond.”

Emerging Civil War is pleased to welcome guest author Hunter S. Jones

Although I’d visited the Chickamauga Park my entire life, I knew next to nothing about the actual battle. When I started this journey, I had no idea what a corps was or a brigade, even though I have an undergrad degree in History. I learned enough to get me through the war eras, pass the exams and write the papers, and move to the parts of history I enjoy: the fashion stories, the love stories, the epidemics. There’s nothing like a plague to capture one’s imagination and change the course of world history. The further I ventured into the study of the Battle of Chickamauga, the more intriguing it became. This wasn’t about Union and Confederate Armies; these are the stories of 150,000 American soldiers. Chickamauga is the saga of broken hearts and shattered dreams which happened on the dates of September 18-20, 1863.

There is a very good reason Chickamauga became the first Civil War National Park, with the bill passing through Congress in 25 minutes. Imagine a bill making it through the U.S. Congress that quickly today. I intended to write about one aspect of the battle itself, but that will be for another article because I want to focus on some of the human elements I discovered while researching at Chickamauga Park.

Battle ProjectileBeing so hands-on I had to get into the park and find out as much information as possible about how the soldiers lived at that time; what they ate, how they bathed, the textiles they wore. With so much of the Civil War activity occurring in the southeast Tennessee and north Georgia area, I have been fortunate enough to be invited onto private property in order to discuss what people had found, one item being the top of an exploded three-part projectile used by the Union troops found in a creek at Anderson Mill, Tennessee. I have also spent a great amount of time in the battlefield itself.

The area sits on a 5400-acre square in northwest Georgia. It is easy to imagine how intense fighting was in such a small area. The campaign and battle take their name from Chickamauga Creek. Legend says that Chickamauga is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” In the book, Myths of the Cherokee, James Mooney writes that Chickamauga is the more common spelling for Tsïkäma’gï, a name that “has no meaning in their language” and is possibly “derived from an Algonquian word referring to a fishing or fish-spearing place… if not Shawano, it is probably from the Creek or Chickasaw.”

The Chickamauga Campaign, August-September 1863. Map courtesy of Hal Jespersen.
The Chickamauga Campaign, August-September 1863. Map courtesy of Hal Jespersen.

An organization of Southeastern Native American archeologists called The People of One Fire has been examining the cultures. According to the group, the town of Chickamauga was originally a Chickasaw settlement. A theory is that the word “Chickamauga” is the Anglicization of the Chickasaw words, chika mauka. During the American Revolution, Cherokee refugees were allowed to settle near the town. By the 1780s, so many Cherokees had arrived in the region that the name “Chickamauga” was applied to the fierce Cherokees who attacked the white settlers moving through the area via the Tennessee River. I have always thought that Chickamauga refers to a falcon-like hawk that is native to our region. The hawk only lives on rock bluffs and that was where the area got its name.

The land had been part of the Cherokee Nation until 1838, when the Land Lottery opened for new settlers. The main settlement of the area became Chattanooga, Tennessee, which lies six miles to the north of Chickamauga. At the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln said, “Taking Chattanooga is as important as taking Richmond.”

What made this tiny river town of 2500 people so important to the United States? Chattanooga sits on the Tennessee River, was a railway hub, and was viewed as the gateway to the Deep South. Cotton, corn, indigo and rice went by rail to the cities from the Southern states to the industrial populations of the larger northern cities. By taking this one little town, the Union forces could push their way to victory and crush the Confederacy. The Union Army was defeated in this attack and would prove to be a hollow victory for the tattered .

Battle of Chickamauga, September 19, 1863. Map courtesy of Hal Jespersen.
Battle of Chickamauga, September 19, 1863. Map courtesy of Hal Jespersen.

The Battle of Chickamauga is more complex than any chess game you will ever play. Because of its deep and layered structuring, the battle is still studied by the military. Basically stated, it was a bloodbath, with only a twenty-yard visibility, and to quote one of the soldiers, the sound was like “escape valves from a thousand steam engines.” It is documented that there were parts of the battlefield where men fought without their feet touching the ground due to the debris of injured and dead men, downed trees, and felled horses. Napoleonic warfare ended at the Battle of Chickamauga.

Battle of Chickamauga, September 20, 1863. Map courtesy of Hal Jespersen.
Battle of Chickamauga, September 20, 1863. Map courtesy of Hal Jespersen.

With the territory being newly settled, the undergrowth was thick, making visibility almost impossible. Not only that, the temperature range was extreme, with the daytime heat reaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures hitting 32 degrees. The moon position was crescent, making nighttime visibility even worse than it was during the day. With that type of heat, the region became extremely humid. The clothing of the era was made of linen, cotton, and mainly wool. The soldiers’ body temperatures went from hot to cold, plus they waded through creeks and blood. The clothing alone had to add to their discomfort. In an effort to bring history alive, my father has agreed to share the family story with you. Our family has been in the Chattanooga area since the 1700s, when it was the Cherokee Nation. This is all documented information. In 1838, our direct ancestor went west on the Cherokee Removal, leaving part of the family in Tennessee. The Cookson Hills in Oklahoma are named after that branch of our family. The Civil War found six brothers in five different states, due to the Trail of Tears. Possibly due to our native ties, we have no substantiated stories of the Civil War, unlike most families with Southern roots.

Chickamauga BattlefieldWith that in mind, here are some of the items I uncovered while researching at Chickamauga and things that you may not know. Corn was king in the southeast Tennessee, north Georgia, and Alabama region at the beginning of the Civil War. Most farmers were making a great living from selling their product to the British Empire, which was involved in the Crimean War. There was a global economy even then.

The majority of these men had no desire to fight a war for either the Union or the Confederacy, nor did they own slaves, and only “joined” when they were conscripted (drafted). It was the first military draft in American history with both sides mimicking or closely matching the other in terms of policies and procedures. After all, until that point, we had all been the same country. If you were a politician, you did not have to serve in the military. Often, Confederate soldiers would be drafted only to desert their post later due to starvation and join the Union forces in another area, region, or state.

Family members did fight on opposing sides, and this was not uncommon. Allegiance to a cause did not stop or start at the Mason-Dixon Line. Union Major General George H. Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” was a Virginian. Samuel Cooper, a native son of New York, was one of the higher-ranking Confederate generals.

Eleven Confederate battle flags were utilized; most of them were blue with relatively few using any other color. It has not been recorded that any of them had the St. Andrews style cross, or what would be recognized today as the Confederate flag.

The majority of the 150,000 men who fought at Chickamauga spoke French as a second language.

Propaganda was rampant with most Southern towns having a Union and a Confederate newspaper. It was not unusual for a newspaper editor to be shot for his political views. Post offices, towns, and newspapers in the autumn of 1862 ran pleas for Southern men to volunteer because the Union would soon send “Hessians to steal your property and take your women,” according to one of my National Park Service guides.

Battle ProjectileThe Battle of Chickamauga saw approximately 34,000 casualties, five million rounds of artillery, plus five million rifle rounds. The Union Army alone had over 45,000 horses and 2,000 wagons; all on a four-mile square, wooded, and heavily timbered patch of ground in north Georgia.

Chickamauga proved to be the costliest two-day battle of the Civil War in many ways. The Confederate Army won the actual battle, yet couldn’t maintain the tide of morale or even food needed for its dwindling forces. After this battle, Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant was given overall command in the West as the armies in the southeastern states were called. History records what he, along with General William Tecumseh Sherman, accomplished. This rough territory and savage fighting were used to create the first U.S. National Military Park in 1895. Chickamauga, so serene today yet so brutal in 1863, served as the model for future military parks, including those at Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Vicksburg. The men who fought in the battle understood why this place had to be commemorated and knew the value of being united forever as Americans.


Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. US Bureau of American Ethnology, 1897-8 Annual Report, 1902.

Watkins, Sam. R. 1861 vs. 1882. “Co. Aytch,” Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment; or, A Side Show of the Big Show. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House.

The staff and archives of the Chickamauga Battlefield. National Park Service.



All photographs public domain or owned by the author.

Deb Hunter writes fiction as Hunter S. Jones, publishing as an indie author, as well as through MadeGlobal Publishing. She is a member of the prestigious Society of Authors founded by Lord Tennyson, Society of Civil War Historians (US), Dangerous Women Project Global Writers Initiative (University of Edinburgh), Romance Writers of America (PAN member), Historical Writers’ Association, Historical Novel Society, English Historical Fiction Authors, Atlanta Writers Club, Atlanta Writers Conference, and Rivendell Writers Colony which is associated with The University of the South. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, she now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband.

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34 Responses to Confessions from Chickamauga: “Taking Chattanooga is as important as taking Richmond.”

  1. A correction to your comment about the variety of Confederate flags used on the field at Chickamauga. Longstreet’s Corps carried the Army of Northern Virginia pattern battle flag, square with the familiar red field and the blue St. Andrew’s Cross. The Army of Tennessee did not adopt its version of the St. Andrew’s Cross flag (rectangular, not square) until 1864, and even then some units continued to use the Hardee Corps flag, the blue banner with a white disk, to which you refer in your article.

    1. Mr. Bradley, is there any chance you know Dr. Hollins in Manchester? If yes, he has wanted me to get in touch with you, but we didn’t know where to reach you. It’s an honor to meet you virtually. Please feel free to connect with me at any time. Best regards!

  2. On July 3, 1863, my ancestors here in western Pennsylvania heard the sounds of the famous Confederate cannonade shelling Union forces on Cemetery Ridge prior to Longstreet’s attack. At the far tip of the Union left flank, in the valley between Little Round Top and Big Round Top, a soldier from that family was waiting to meet his fate in the battle he knew was coming. At that very same hour this soldier’s brother was marching through the Tullahoma farmland of east Tennessee toward his own fate in a battle that would take place three months later at Chickamauga. Both brothers fought in these two battles that would shape the outcome of the American Civil War. Only one brother would survive to return to his family in western Pennsylvania. I have visited and spent time on the field of both these great battles, trying to see and understand what my ancestor had experienced. I know only that my imagination has certain limits and what they experienced will never be known. Of the two battlefields, I have found Chickamauga to be the most haunting. The fields of battle are keep close to their original appearance. There are very few monuments to distract you from your thoughts or to interrupt the images you create in your head as the park historian guides you through the events of the battle. I have yet to find another Civil War battlefield so spiritually compelling as Chickamauga. Could it be that my family’s ancestor is standing there beside me whenever I visit? I am not really sure.

  3. Above you write:

    “The majority of these men had no desire to fight a war for either the Union or the Confederacy, nor did they own slaves, and only “joined” when they were conscripted (drafted). It was the first military draft in American history with both sides mimicking or closely matching the other in terms of policies and procedures.”

    The draft was not implemented on a large scale in the north until the summer of 1863, so it seems highly likely the majority of Union troops at Chickamauga were volunteers not conscripts or draftees. In fact, beginning in April of 1861 men in the north flocked to enlistment offices to volunteer for the army, not so much to free the slaves as to preserve the Union. While my state, New Jersey, didn’ t have troops at Chickamauga, of the over 70,000 men from the state who served in the military less than 1,000 were drafted and I suspect that’s true for the rest of the north as well. My sense is that draftees or substitutes didn’t become a big part of the Union war machine until the last 12-18 months of the war or after Chickamauga.

    1. I am astonished by the statement that the majority of Union troops at Chickamauga were conscripts. Statements like that should be backed up with sources. The majority in a rough sense hailed from Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky, as well as contingents of U.S. Regulars . I am highly skeptical that any meaningful portions of those regiments as they were constituted in September, 1863 were other than volunteers – which undermines the theory of motivation. Of course, if the author of the post has evidence to the contrary, I’d appreciate seeing it.

      1. Thank you very much for stopping by. I’m only now seeing your post. The official conscription act by the Union was known as the Federal Conscription Act, signed by President Lincoln on March 3, 1863. You may find the official documentation here: Congressional Record, 37th Congress 3d. Session, Ch. 74, 75, 1863.

        Until that point, the Federal Government had allowed each state in the Union to conscript men as needed via what were known as state militia laws. These enabled the states to meet the needed quotas for the war effort. As the enthusiasm of the war effort waned, so did volunteers, and conscriptees often responded with violent acts when states attempted to fill the required numbers. An excellent book to read on this subject is Eugene Murdoch’s, “One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North,” published by the University of Illinois, 1971.
        Please let me know if you have any further questions. Thanks again for the question. I’m excited that so many people are interested in Civil War history!

      2. You just need to be careful with squishy words like “majority,” “most,” many,” and the like…..

        The boys from Pennsylvania were solid volunteers during that campaign.

  4. Actually, I don’t think Mike is asking a question. He is pretty well versed in such things and is, I believe, offering a little help. He would be a good resource for you in your ongoing research.

  5. Many, many thank to everyone who has stopped by & left a message. It’s exciting to see such enthusiasm about this chapter in US History. Here is Jim Ogden, the park historian, in an excellent vid in which he discusses various aspects of the battle. Enjoy!

  6. I was back to this area earlier this year. The name “Brannam” on the September 20, 1863 map I feel sure refers to my family. We found Grandpa Jesse Brannam’s house, still standing, and searched for many of the places mentioned in his granddaughter’s account of life in that area and re-locating to NW Arkansas later. I must confess I’m more interested in the genealogy of Brannam and Dunn, Knight and Little families in the area, but the war was an important part of their lives and why they moved out of the area later. Interesting reading!

  7. I must confess that I am slowly getting into the Civil War. As a military historian I was more focused on the Crusades era. This is the type of article I enjoy reading and applaud your researching. Good job, Deb!

  8. Very well written. I was surprised to find that the traditional Confederate flag was not used during this battle. This is a highly researched article, and it’s interesting to read about a Civil War battle from a female perspective.

  9. Great post, and I really like almost all of your perspectives. However, I agree with others that your statement that the men of both sides at Chickamauga were drafted is at variance with established facts. I’ve written two books on these armies in their battles over the 12 months leading up to Chickamauga, and the idea that these men are not volunteers is just incorrect.

    I note what you say about the Federal draft law being enacted in March 1863. However, it did not take effect to July 1 of that year, and after unrest in the North (the New York Draft Riots being the most famous example), implementation was further postponed until Aug/Sep 1863 – in other words, too late for the Chickamauga campaign. The Confederate draft law of 1862 set up conscription, but also extended enlistment terms for current soldiers from one year to the duration – which covered the guys in the Army of Tennessee.

    I also note the state militia laws you cite. Governors called up their state militia units, and these often became the nucleus of volunteer outfits once they were rounded out with recruits. (The 1st Wisconsin, drawn from the Milwaukee Light Guard, is an example.) However, most units were volunteers, hence having that word in their designation. Ohio went as far as to call their infantry units “Volunteer Militia.” This is far different from states doing forcible recruiting, as you imply in a comment above.

    I further direct your attention to people like B.F. Cheatham, J.C. Breckinridge, L. Polk, James Negley, John Wilder, John Starkweather, and other leaders at that battle who recruited units early in the war through voluntary enlistment and led their men on the battlefield at Chickamauga either directly or as part of a larger command.

    Were there draftees in the ranks at Chickamauga, or people compelled to be there? Sure, but only one or two here and there. Far and away these men on both sides had joined voluntarily.

  10. With all due respect, I have re-read my own article and at no point do I state that “…the men of both sides at Chickamauga were drafted.” The article says that “The majority of these men had no desire to fight a war for either the Union or the Confederacy…and only “joined” when they were conscripted (drafted).” Men WERE conscripted because neither side could raise enough troops to fill their militia quotas, but that does not mean everyone was conscripted nor does my article elude to that. I do mention my father’s family ‘joining’ from various states (and both sides) and that I discovered they had all been conscripted the same week. I’ve researched this article extensively, have a History Degree from Lipscomb University, an advanced degree from Notre Dame, and I expect common courtesy. If you don’t like what I wrote, please contact me. I’m not backing down.

  11. LOVE this article! I grew up in Chattanooga and spent many summer afternoons at Chickamauga Battlefield. As a kid, of course, we were less interested in the history and more interested in the legends. We grew up with the story of Green Eyes, an unfortunate soldier who lost his life and was doomed to wander for eternity. Thanks for this blast from the past!

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