|2008 Torchlight Tour
Chattanooga National Cemetery
Memorial Day, May 26, 2008
The Chattanooga National Cemetery, in conjunction with James Ogden of the National Park Service and Missionary Ridge Camp #63, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, once again held a tour of select graves. This year, approximately thirty persons attended the dusk-to-night tour enhanced by the special lighting effect from replica 19th-Century period torches.
|The group gathered at "The Arch" in the southwest corner of the cemetery. This used to be the main entrance to the grounds as Cemetery Avenue ran from the intersection of Central Avenue and Main Street up to the top of the hill in the cemetery. Main Street was known as Moore Road during the Civil War. The entrance was later moved to Bailey Avenue, but due to problems created by funeral procession traffic on Bailey, the entrance is now from the east side on Holtzclaw Avenue.|
Rains earlier in the day left things a little wet all around - but
considering the number of amateur torch bearers and the ground that was traversed, we were able to safely
venture around without incident.
||Jim began the tour by telling us that the cemetery originally contained approximately 75 acres, and now contains about 120 acres. This cemetery was started by General George Thomas for the Army of the Cumberland soldiers that had died in the Chattanooga campaign (see General Orders 296, December 25, 1863). After Chattanooga, when Union troops gained access to the Chickamauga Battlefield, Union soldiers buried there were re-interred to this cemetery. It has since expanded over the years to include honorably discharged veterans from the American Revolutionary War through Iraq. There are over 37,000 marked graves that contain approximately 45,000 individuals. (Two family members are usually buried together, one on top of the other, to help save remaining ground.) There are about 600 burials annually. Jim noted that two newly opened national cemeteries (one in Canton, Georgia and another in Tampa, Florida) have helped to ease the demand on remaining space at existing National cemeteries including Chattanooga's.|
|Missionary Ridge Camp #63 member, Charlie Engle read the follow order designating May 30, 1868 as the day to remember the Union dead from the late War. This started the traditional May 30th Memorial Day that continued up until the National Holiday Act of 1971 made it into a 3-day holiday weekend.|
| The order, in part, reads:
"General Order No. 11, Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic, Washington, D.C, May 5, 1868....
...."We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.
"If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well
as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
"Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude, ---the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
"II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
"III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.
By command of:
|At left is an early version of the cemetery's plan.
Below is today's map which is roughly similar to that original plan.
Above, the illustrious group sets off, torches in hand trying to keep up with Jim as they head to the first grave.
At right, Jim stops to tell us about Michael Neary of the 22nd Illinois Volunteer Regiment, Harker's Brigade, who was mortally wounded during the assult on Missionary Ridge, November 25, 1863, very near Confederate General Braxton Bragg's army headquarters. Jim read a letter Neary had written a month earlier to his son, John, saying his enlistment would be over in a few months and that he was looking forward to getting home and being with his family.
|About a dozen graves were visited and letters or other
histories were read that shed light on the backgrounds of those buried beneath the grass.
|The group heard about the Fisher brothers, Rufas and Alvin, both of Company K, 33rd Massachusetts. Rufas was killed at Smith's Hill during the Wahatchie Battle on October 29, 1863, and Alvin was killed at the Battle of Resaca on May 15, 1864. Both were re-interred to this cemetery, but they are buried in different locations.|
The tour ended at the hilltop within the "Memorial Circle of Honor." Surrounding the group were thousands of city lights - somewhat reminiscent of the many campfires that warmed both Union and Confederate soldiers during the fall of 1863. While the group paused to remember the fallen on this Memorial Day, Jim pointed out that of the nearly 13,000 Union veterans buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery, only 8,000+ are identified. Over 4,000 soldiers are in graves marked only with a number. He passed around several photographs of Civil War soldiers that were casualties of the War, but could not be specifically identified when buried here. Jim stated that these soldiers were not as fortunate as 1st Lieutenant S. R. Parks of the 9th Indiana Infantry. In the days before the now familiar "dog tags," Lieutenant Parks wrote on a piece of paper his name and unit and pinned it to his jacket. During the Battle of Chickamauga, he was killed and later buried on the field by the Confederates. Not until nearly two and a half months later was his body recovered. Although it had deteriated to the point of non-recognition, his handwritten note did serve to identify his remains. ....General Logan: we came, we saw, and we remembered...