(Obscure) Civil War Weekend Exploring

How far out of your way would you go to see something related to your favorite battlefield Park?

I confess that I visit plenty of obscure historical sites. Goes with the territory, I guess. I visit artifacts, too.

When the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park was created, the veterans erected five metal observation towers. Three of those were on the Chickamauga field – at Hall’s Ford, on the Union line west of Jay’s Mill, and on Hill 2 of Horseshoe Ridge. Two more were placed on Missionary Ridge, the first at Bragg’s headquarters site and the second at the point where Baird’s division first ascended the ridge on November 25, 1863.

Bragg HQ 1900
The Bragg Tower as it once stood

There are pictures of these towers, but they were all removed before I ever visited the park. Unlike at Gettysburg and the stone tower at Antietam, there are no surviving observation towers at Chickamauga today.

But that doesn’t mean they are all gone, departed from this plane of existence.

One tower – the one from Bragg’s Headquarters – still survives. It is still in Tennessee, serving as a fire lookout tower at Fall Creek Falls State Park, about 50 miles south of Cookeville, Tennessee. Fall Creek Falls is a very scenic place, a popular site for camping and hiking, but it lacks much by way of Civil War History, as far as I have discovered.

Except, of course, for the Bragg Reservation tower.

Which means, of course (obviously) I had to visit it for myself.

I have done so twice, each time shanghaiing friends to go along with me. The first was at least a decade ago, perhaps closer to thirteen years, and it poured rain the whole time.

This March, on my way to Chickamauga for my annual “Seminar in the Woods,” we did so again. This time the sun was out, and though it was muddy, I was able to visit the tower.

The tower from the park fire road

It still stands. A couple of steps are broken, and it seems a tad rickety. Surprisingly, the park lets you climb it, though the warning sign informs you in no uncertain terms that you do so at your own risk. No slip-n-fall goldmine here, so be forewarned.

At the foot of the beast
Some battle damage
The descent

I confess I was nervous about going up. The platform stands 75 feet high, and the tower sways a bit with your footsteps as you go higher. But I went about three-quarters of the way up, though I did not like the look of the platform floor as I got closer.

But veterans climbed this tower, long ago, to survey the terrain where they fought, and perhaps tell war stories about assaulting – or defending – Missionary Ridge.

I was happy I visited. Perhaps you will be too.

4 Responses to (Obscure) Civil War Weekend Exploring

  1. Dave Powell
    Thanks for this reminder that “significant changes have taken place at the National Military Parks over the years; and not all of those changes were for the better.” Attempts to build hotels and trolley lines, and constructing major roads across the heart of battlefields… what were they thinking?
    When I visited Chattanooga a few years ago, I did not realize that towers had ever been in place there. And, fortunately, Lookout Mountain provides a birds-eye view.
    But, Vicksburg is another matter. And when I visited that heavily wooded labyrinth of ravines and dead-end trails, I thought, “This place could use a few towers.”
    Just in the past week, while perusing the 1911 work, “Indiana at Vicksburg,” on page 18 one of the three observation towers erected at Vicksburg NMP stood proudly. All three towers have since been removed, and never replaced.
    What were they thinking?

  2. Enjoyed your piece, Dave. On a recent visit to the RevWar Yorktown battlefield, an NPS Ranger directed me to Civil War era earthworks on the remote backside of the park that were built to defend against the Union advance during the 1862 Peninsula campaign. I was pleasingly shocked at the great condition of the earthworks, albeit they were fairly overgrown with vegetation. It was a real treat!

  3. I grew up in the town of Chickamauga, known as Crawfish Springs (pre & post Civil War). As a boy, I remember my parents speaking of those towers. They were born in the early 1920s in Chickamauga. I found a website long ago that discussed the towers and the dates of their dismantling. I’ve tried in vain to find that site again to no avail. It is wonderful to know that the Bragg tower still exists. Thank you for the wonderful photos.

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