The 150th Anniversary of Chickamauga really saw two distinct and separate programs, beginning on the weekend of September 14-15, and then re-commencing on Wednesday, September 18th through Friday the 20th. There were some programs on the 21st and 22nd, but that was also the weekend of the big (or supposedly big) re-enactment down in McLemore’s Cove, and so the park chose not to try and compete directly with that event.
The weekend before, I spent both days at the Brotherton House, where I and Keith Bohannon (professor, West Georgia University) led battle walks focusing on “The Breakthrough” where Longstreet’s column knifed through the gap left in the Union lines on September 20th. Keith and I led three walks a day, each about 1:45 in duration, discussing the event in question. I tried to frame that discussion in the context of what has become the ‘common wisdom’ – that General Tom Wood moved his command despite knowing the order was wrong, and likely out of spite for Rosecrans – and what we know about the order today. Since a spite-filled Tom Wood is very much a part of Peter Cozzens’ version of the event, and since Cozzens’ book remains the most commonly read volume on the battle, Wood’s supposed sabotage is a common theme visitors take away from the battle.
Instead, Keith and I tried to impart some idea of the pressures of the moment, and especially of the role Alexander McDowell McCook played in the critical decision to move. His role – even, for the most part, his presence – in the unfolding drama of the “fatal order of the day” is usually overlooked. It was McCook, who had in hand two very urgent orders from Rosecrans alerting him to the beginning of a general movement to the left, however, who finally authorized Wood to move, informing the latter that he would be replaced. That replacement, of course, never happened.
Regretfully, I didn’t get to see much of the other events. There were living histories for Wilder, at Wilder Tower, the 21st Ohio on Horseshoe Ridge, cannon demonstrations at the Visitor’s Center, and a bus tour taking visitors from station to station where staff and re-enactors presented short programs on secession, civilians, the battle, casualties, etc.
Starting Wednesday, the park staff began to do something extremely interesting – real time walks of specific portions of the battle. Beginning at 4:30 p.m. on September 18th, Jim Ogden led walks exploring the fighting at Alexander’s Bridge and then tracking the movements of the Rebels across Dalton’s and Thedford’s Fords. Those two programs, kicked off a series of back-to-back walks that recommenced at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, ran until 8:30 p.m. or so that night, and did the same for Friday. Each walk was about 2 hours, with half-hour intervals for admin movement and regrouping. I made all the walks but one on thursday, and about a third of the walks on Friday. Effectively, I got to tag along on 60% of them.
As the crowds got bigger, however, Lee White, Chris Young, Anton Heinlein, and Brian Autry all at one time or another led sub-groups. Once the crowd swelled to 300 or so, a single tour became unwieldy. Each of the sub-groups did the same battle walk, but focused on different parts of the fight. For example, in Viniard Field, one group focused on Heg’s Brigade, another on Robertson’s Texans, etc. The results were excellent, allowing visitors to follow ancestors in specific units, etc.
I found the battle walks to be a highlight of the whole week. On Horseshoe Ridge, I in fact broke away from the first group and made my way from program to program, ending with Chris Young on Hill One. Chris delivered an impassioned explanation of the fight between the 19th Illinois, 11trh Michigan and 18th Ohio on one side, versus the men of Gracie’s Brigade (mainly Alabamians of the 43rd and Hilliard’s Legion) on the other. I marveled that he had so much energy left to give after two days. A tip of the hat to Chris for that final burst of energy.
I signed many, many books, spending time in the bookstore on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Brad Quinlin, 21st Ohio historian extraordinaire, was also there, as was Rick Baumgartner of Blue Acorn Press. Stacy Reeves was present signing her new book on the Monuments, and at least one other gentleman, but I am sorry to say I don’t recall his name at the moment. The VC was crowded all day long, each day. Saturday was a rain day, so that we saw a large influx of re-enactors who had given up on the mud for the day and were there as well.
I don’t know what the official visitation numbers were, but I do know the park was very happy with the turnout – as was I. I met a ton of knowledgeable people, and had some lively discussions on aspects of the battle.
I will be 102 when the 200th anniversary of the battle rolls around. With luck, I will still be following Jim Ogden around Viniard or Brock Field when that time comes…