Book Cover "The Origin & Evolution of the National Military Park Idea" by Ronald F. Lee 1973




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Later Evolution of the National Military Park Idea





Chickamauga and Chattanooga

On the fields of West Chickamauga Creek and the hills around the rail center of Chattanooga, Union and Confederate armies clashed during the late summer and fall of 1863 in some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War. Following the battle at Chickamauga on September 18-20, 1863, the climax came in mid-afternoon on November 25, when the Union forces stormed Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga. In his Oxford History of the American People Samuel Eliot Morison calls this "the most gallant action of the war" and quotes General H.V. Boynton's eye-witness account:

Eighty-nine regiments rush for the earthworks at the base of the ridge -- every soldier like an arrow shot from a string which had been drawn to its full tension.... Riflemen in the Confederate earthworks and belching batteries above pelted them with the varied hail of battle. The sun swung low over the ridge. It never looked in all its shining over battlefields upon a more imposing rush. Two miles and a half of gleaming rifle-barrels, line after line of them, and more than a hundred and fifty banners, state and national, blossoming along the advance. Not a straggler, only the killed and wounded, dropped from the ranks. They swept over the lower earthworks, capturing many prisoners, and...swarmed up the slopes. The colors rushed in advance, and the men crowded towards the banners. Each regiment became a wedge-shaped mass, the flags at the cutting edge cleaving the way to the summit. Without faltering, without a stay, the flags went on, -- not long, it is sadly true, in the same hands, but always in willing hands, and in an hour from the sounding of the signal guns for starting, the crest for three miles was crowned with the stars and stripes, Bragg's whole centre was in flight, and forty of his guns and two thousand prisoners were in the hands of Thomas's victorious army. [53]

The idea of a national park to commemorate the battlefields of Chickamauga and Chattanooga originated with this same eye-witness, General Boynton, when he revisited the area with his old commander, General Ferdinand Van Derveer, in the summer of 1888. Riding over the fields near West Chickamauga Creek, the idea came to them that this battlefield should be "a Western Gettysburg -- a Chickamauga memorial." [54] But, they added, it should be more than a Gettysburg, which in 1888 still had State monuments along the Union lines only; here the lines of both armies should be equally marked by the Nation. General Boynton's proposal was quickly taken up by the Army of the Cumberland in cooperation with a local preservation committee headed by Adolph S. Ochs, later an important benefactor of the park. In September 1889, prominent Confederate veterans joined with Union veterans and the local committee to form the Chickamauga Memorial Association. Early in 1890, Representative Charles H. Grosvenor of Ohio, himself a former Union general and for two decades a prominent member and leading debater in Congress, introduced H.R. 6454 to establish the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park. [55] On March 5, 1890, Representative Frederick Lansing of New York, on behalf of the Military Affairs Committee of the House to which the bill had been referred, submitted a favorable report.

The report of the House Military Affairs Committee, the first to recommend establishing a complete national military park, is well worth some attention. To begin with, the committee took this policy position: "The preservation for national study of the lines of decisive battles, especially when the tactical movements were unusual both in numbers and military ability, and when the fields embraced great natural difficulties, may properly be regarded as a matter of national importance." [56] This criterion appears to have been utilized by later committees in considering proposed national military parks, with some exceptions, and in amended form ends up as one of the criteria for classifying battlefields developed by the Army War College in 1925 and used as the basis for the national battlefield survey conducted by the War Department between 1926 and 1933. [57]

In applying this criterion, the committee showed a keen awareness of modern European history and concluded that for the numbers engaged and the duration of fighting, Chickamauga ranked among the most noted battles of the modern world from the days of Napoleon Bonaparte to the close of the war for the Union.

Wellington lost 12 per cent at Waterloo; Napoleon 14-1/2 per cent at Austerlitz and 14 per cent at Marengo. The average losses of both armies at Magenta and Solferino, in 1859, was less than 9 per cent. At Koniggratz, in 1866, it was 6 per cent. At Worth, Mars-la-Tour, Gravelotte, and Sedan in 1870, the average loss was 12 per cent. The marvel of German fighting in the Franco-Prussian War was the Third Westphalian Infantry at Mars-la-Tour. It took 3,000 men into action and lost 40.4 per cent.... There were several brigades on each side at Chickamauga and very many regiments whose losses exceeded these figures.... The average losses on each side for the troops which fought through the two days were fully 33 per cent, while for many portions of each line the losses reached 50 per cent, and for some even 75 per cent. [58]

The committee then made this significant statement of its underlying attitude toward the national military park concept.

A field as renowned as this for the stubbornness and brilliancy of its fighting, not only in our own war, but when compared with all modern wars, has an importance to the nation as an object lesson of what is possible in American fighting, and the national value of the preservation of such lines for historical and professional study must be apparent to all reflecting minds.... [59]

The committee report pointed out that there was probably no other field in the world which presented more formidable natural obstacles to large-scale military operations than the slopes of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Since the purpose would be to maintain the park in its historic condition, it also noted that there had been scarcely any changes in the roads, fields, forests and houses at Chickamauga since the battle, except in the growth of underbrush and timber, which could easily be removed. Taken together these fields offered unparalleled opportunities for historical and professional military study of the operations of two great armies over all types of terrain met with in actual campaigns, such as mountains, gentle and steep ridges, open fields, forests, and streams that presented military obstacles. From carefully placed observation towers on Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain, and Chickamauga, it would be possible for observers and students to comprehend the grand strategy of the campaign over a front that extended 150 miles and to follow many tactical details of the actual battles. A battlefield park of this quality and magnitude could be found in no other nation in the world. [60]

The committee reported that all the armies and nearly every State of the North and South had troops on one or both fields, thus confirming the national character of the project. Union troops from 18 States were engaged there; troops were present from every State of the Confederacy; and three States, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, contributed large numbers to both armies. The regular Army had nine regiments and seven batteries on these fields. Among the noted officers present on one or both fields were Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Rosecrans, Hooker, Sheridan, and Granger of the Union Army, and Bragg, Longstreet, Hood, Hardee, Buckner, Polk, D.H. Hill, Wheeler and Forrest of the Confederate forces. The proposed park was readily accessible by railway and road and would preserve for the Nation, for historical and military study, "the best efforts which these noted officers, commanding American veterans, were able to put forth." [61]

The report of the House Military Affairs Committee was well received in Congress, not only in the House, where the bill quickly passed, but also in the Senate where the report was adopted almost word for word by the Senate Military Affairs Committee. The bill soon passed the Senate and was signed by President Benjamin Harrison on August 18, 1890.

The act establishing the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park preceded even the enabling act for Gettysburg and as the first legislation enacted by Congress to authorize a large battlefield park deserves some special comment. It begins by stating that the purpose of the park is "preserving and suitably marking for historical and professional military study the fields of some of the most remarkable maneuvers and most brilliant fighting in the war of the rebellion...." To accomplish this purpose, the act authorized the Secretary of War to acquire approximately 7,600 acres of land within prescribed boundaries embracing the battlefield of Chickamauga, and eight highways, scenes of battlefield maneuvers, as approaches to and parts of the park. Subject to the supervision of the Secretary of War, the affairs of the park were placed in charge of three commissioners, each of whom should have actively participated in the battle of Chickamauga or one of the battles about Chattanooga. The Secretary of War was authorized to enter into agreements with such owners of the land as desired to remain on it, to occupy and cultivate their holdings upon condition they "will preserve the present buildings and roads, and the present outlines of field and forest...." It was the duty of the commissioners to open such roads as might be necessary for park purposes and mark the lines of battle of all the troops engaged in the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga insofar as they fell within the park. To carry out this work, the commission was authorized to employ an "assistant in historical work." States were authorized to enter on park lands to place markers, on sites where their troops were actually engaged, subject to approval of the Secretary of War who was also authorized to make all needed park regulations. [62]

As soon as these concepts for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park were written into law, the Secretary of War proceeded to appoint the three members of the Park Commission. The Commission went to work promptly and effectively; and on September 18-20, 1895, the park was dedicated in an impressive national observance. Vice President Adlai Stevenson led a delegation from Washington, D.C., which included official representation from both the House and the Senate. Twenty-four States were represented, in fourteen cases by the governor and his staff. A large tent was erected with a seating capacity of ten thousand and was filled on several separate occasions by reunions of different veterans' organizations. On the main day of dedication, it was conservatively estimated that forty thousand veterans were in attendance. As Dr. Paul Buck observes, "The sentiment everywhere expressed was pride in the fact that after thirty-two years the survivors of the two armies could meet again on the field of conflict 'under one flag, all lovers of one country.' ... In the long night of sordid contention through which the North and South passed before true peace was realized the people clung to the ennobling memory of four years' heroic effort, until in time, at Gettysburg and at Chickamauga, they welcomed the mellowed recollection of their quarrel as a bond of union, where one they feared it might divide.... Something remarkable in history had occurred." [63]

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