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.
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.
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.
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.