The evening we arrived in Chattanooga, we had dinner at the Big River Grill & Brewing Company, whose chicken quesadilla (shared), filet of beef en brochette and monster cheddar-bacon burger were all excellent, as was their Imperial 375 ESB pale ale.
The next day was beautiful: sunny and in the upper 70s. I put on a short-sleeved shirt for the first time since leaving home. We had to drive around for quite a while looking for breakfast, which the motel didn’t offer. Finally, all the way downtown, we found a really nice coffee shop named Greyfriar’s (that’s where they put the apostrophe) that served a good breakfast. The day’s decaf coffee, which we both had, was Ethiopian.
Our main reason for stopping a whole day in Chattanooga was my interest in the local Civil War battlefields, which are among the most scenic because of Chattanooga’s spectacular location in a deep bend of the Tennessee River, surrounded by low — but steep — mountains. Some of those mountains are in the city now, though that wasn’t so when the battles were fought. After stopping at a branch library in South Chattanooga, where we used the public access computers to check our email and pay a few bills, we went on to the Chickamauga battlefield, just a few miles south across the Georgia line.
In September, 1863, the Confederates under Braxton Bragg won a battle there and pushed the Union Army of the Cumberland, under William Rosecrans, back into Chattanooga, where they were bottled up for the next two months.
At the visitor center we watched a slightly hoky multimedia presentation on Chickamauga and the later battle for Chattanooga. It featured comradely dialogue and narration by the “ghosts” of two veterans, one from each side. After that, we took a quick driving tour of the site. The battle was fought in thick woods, and the site is still mostly wooded, though with broad fields in several places. Later in the 19th century, veterans’ associations from the various northern and southern regiments put up monuments to their comrades who died in the battle. These are mostly situated along the lines where the regiments were stationed at one time or another during the fighting, and in among them are historical markers that describe the positions of the regiments. We found the information on the markers a bit too detailed to provide a very clear picture of what went on there.
I climbed the 138 steps of a memorial tower dedicated to the Union’s Wilder Brigade. The view was extensive, though lacking in either historic or photographic interest. However, my picture looking down on a cannon will at least prove that I made it to the top.
The Battle of Chattanooga
In 1863, all of Chattanooga was on the south side of the Tennessee River, lying inside a bend that surrounded it on three sides. The mountains closed the remaining side, and the Confederates sat on top of them, their artillery making it impossible to resupply the Union army by steamboat. But the situation was changing. General Grant, now in charge of the Union’s western armies, relieved Rosecrans and replaced him with George Thomas, whose defensive action had prevented the recent defeat from becoming a total disaster and earned him the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga.” Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland was reinforced by the Army of the Tennessee, under General Sherman, and some troops from the Army of the Potomac commanded by General Hooker. Grant came to Chattanooga to take overall command, and a way was found, by combining water and land transport, to bring in supplies. Part of this route ran across the narrow neck of Moccasin Point, visible in this picture. You can also see what an easy shot the Confederate gunners would have had at any steamboat trying to get past under Lookout Mountain.
In late November, Grant was ready to attack. Over three days, November 23–25, the Federals pushed the Confederates off the mountains and sent them retreating southward into Georgia. The Army of the Cumberland was anxious to avenge its defeat at Chickamauga, and although their part of the battle was supposed to be a diversion, on the 25th they stormed up the sheer cliff of Missionary Ridge, right in the center of the enemy line, and routed Bragg’s army. (In the meantime what was supposed to be the main attack, over on the Confederate right, had stalled.)
On the previous day, a smaller force of three divisions commanded by Hooker had muscled its way up the sheer side of Lookout Mountain, on Bragg’s left, forcing the defenders to withdraw that night. The fighting took place in heavy fog, and was afterwards known as “The Battle Above the Clouds” although this designation was, to use Grant’s term, “poetry.”
Leaving Chickamauga, we returned to Chattanooga where we set out to find and follow the road that runs along the crest of Missionary Ridge. There is no military park here — just a residential neighborhood (most of it upper-middle class by the looks) with an occasional state or regimental monument intruding. In spite of the houses, we could easily see how high and steep the ridge was, and we gained even more respect for the Union attackers who swarmed up it.
Our next stop was the top of Lookout Mountain, where we ate a midday meal of white cheddar Cheesits and bottled water before we entered Point Park. The amazing views of Chattanooga and vicinity provided most of the interest, although cannon here and there contributed a bit of Civil War ambience.
We left the park late in the afternoon and set out for Signal Mountain and Waycrazy’s Barbecue, which had been recommended by a contributor to the Road Food website forum. I was under the impression that there was an impressive view from this restaurant, but there was no view at all unless you count a used-car lot. I had probably read a comment about Signal Mountain and thought it was about the restaurant.
We had no reason to hang around outside, so even though it was only ten to five we went inside and ordered up a storm. Dorothea had a pulled pork platter with coleslaw, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, corn bread, and a sweet potato/pecan casserole that she decided to save for dessert. I ordered a combo platter: two ribs, pulled pork, and shredded beef, plus slaw, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and Brunswick stew; then I had peach cobbler with ice cream for dessert. I drank Dr. Pepper, having agreed ahead of time not to drink beer even if it was available — it wasn’t — because Dorothea was leery of driving down the steep, zigzag mountain road and wanted me to do it in unimpaired condition. Which I was in, if you don’t count the massive meal I had just put away. Alas, since Waycrazy’s sold no alcohol I didn’t get to feel especially virtuous for passing it up.
At the end of the day the odometer showed that we had driven 2,188 miles so far since leaving home.
This section last updated 12-13-2004