One of the best parts of a road trip is the freedom to make interesting stops along the way. During a road trip from Chicago to Florida, I decided to take a break and have a little historical adventure at the Chickamauga National Military Park. I drove all night through Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. As I approached the Cumberland Plateau on I-75 through Kentucky, the yellow lights were flashing indicating hazardous fog ahead.
Hazardous road trip driving conditions through the Cumberlands
I gripped the steering wheel tightly as I could barely see the headlights from the cars and trucks ahead of me let alone the road. I remembered hearing horror stories of pile ups along I-75 in Chattanooga due to fog.
Eventually, I descended from the Cumberlands and hit Knoxville as day broke and arrived in Chattanooga for breakfast. I was exhausted after driving all night in such stressful conditions. I needed a break from the road and a place to stretch my legs and get some fresh air.
A historical adventure at Chickamauga National Military Park
I consulted the map, and I decided this would be a perfect time to visit Chickamauga National Military Park just south of Chattanooga in Georgia. I had driven past many times and never made the stop. It turned out to be a perfect place to stop. It was not too far off of the Interstate, admission was free, and they have over 50 miles of trails to walk on.
I only planned to stay for an hour or two and just get some exercise after being cooped up in the car for over 12 hours. Over four hours later and after taking a hundred pictures, I left Chickamauga with a greater understanding of the battle and the Civil War.
Great layout by the park service facilitates understanding and reinforces lessons
The history was fascinating as well. The National Park Service does a great job of presenting this historic Civil War battlefield. They present the history of the battle in an introductory movie in the Visitor’s Center. They then offer visitors a chance to reinforce this lesson two times if people wish to accept.
The first is through the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center once you exit the movie theater. The exhibits are arranged in chronological order and detail the events, describe the major personages like Generals Rosecranz, General Bragg, and of course the “Rock of Chickamauga,” General George Thomas, explains how the battle was fought, how it fit into the rest of the campaign, and why it was important to the war in general. The website depicts the battle as the death knell to the Confederacy, and the exhibits, movies, and of course the layout of the battlefield do a great job of explaining why this battle was so important. For gun enthusiasts, there is also the Fuller Gun Collection featuring 300 guns used by American soldiers through World War I.
Time to explore the battlefield
After an hour in the Visitor’s Center, I was itching to get outside and walk some of the trails. Chickamauga is set up perfectly to tour by either car, by foot, or a combination of the two. There is a 7 mile self-guided auto tour.
The auto tour is the third way the park helps visitors understand the events of the battle. The auto tour features an interactive dialogue explaining key points of the battle through your cell phone. You can call into the National Park Service number and push prompts to give key information on what happened at the place where you are standing.
Chickamauga National Military Park features beautiful scenery
Chickamauga is a beautiful and serene setting with rolling hills, flowing creeks, golden fields, and forests. It is hard to believe that a major bloody struggle took place in these quiet hills in 1863. I have that same impression every time I visit a Civil War Battlefield. This is because the National Park Service does a great job of preserving these historic spots to the way they were during the early 1860s.
Visiting a Civil War Battlefield is like an adventure in time to a more peaceful period, which is in direct contrast to the fact that you are walking on ground that saw the most violent episode in our history. Machinery of war with hundreds of monuments sprinkle the picturesque setting with remnants of structures from the period including old buildings, farms, and wooden fences.
Chickamauga is close to Chattanooga, so there is a lot of traffic that rolls through here. I am sure many people had the same idea and took a detour from their road trip to drive through the battlefield. Despite the number of cars, it was not difficult to wander off and be by yourself except for one of the hundreds of memorials found along the area.
I left this park energized to drive a little longer. I also realized this area deserves more attention and a longer stay the next time I come through this area. With the Lookout Mountain National Battlefield close by and 50 miles of trails, I would definitely love to come back and explore this region longer than a half day.
I have now visited Gettysburg, Antietam, Stones River, and now Chickamauga as far as Civil War Battlefield sites. I would love to visit Shiloh, Vicksburg, and some of the other famous spots in the east like Chancellorsville, Bull Run, Appomattox, and Fredericksburg. Have you ever visited a Civil War battlefield? Which is your favorite or one that you recommend?
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Is it cool or sad that I was first introduced to Chickamauga by the Uncle Tupelo song of the same name? Either way, I’ve wanted to visit since then. I’ve visited some Civil War sites in Missouri but no battlefields. This one’s at the top of my list along with Gettysburg.
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I think it is cool. A fantastic song, which I have been fortunate enough to see Jay perform a couple of times. I am going to do a photo essay on this park as I have a ton more pics to share, and I plan on naming it in honor of that great song.
This military park looks a very fascinating place to visit especially for Dale that loves this kind of military and war related sites. We went to a few in Europe but I don’t recall visiting a battlefield before.
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It is always nice to incorporate a little learning with travel. Although I do enjoy certain museums, I would rather get my history fix walking on a battlefield instead of being inside a stuffy museum. I think it is more tangible walking on the ground where something actually happened.
I haven’t been to this battlefield, but do find myself in Chattanooga from time to time. I do need to visit the battlefield. The Chattanooga area was so vital to the turning of the Civil War. If the Union hadn’t captured that area and its vital transportation center, who knows how or when the war ends. I’ve been to Shiloh a couple of times. It’s only an hour or so from our home outside Memphis. It’s a great park to explore, and being on the Tennessee River there are lots of other outdoors adventures nearby. I’ve also been to Vicksburg, but for whatever reason it’s not as notable to me. Maybe because it was about 15 years ago.
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Shiloh is definitely on my radar. I hope to make it there soon. It is kind of far from Chicago, but it is closer than any of the famous eastern battlefields.
I recommend Antietam. It’s probably my favorite battlefield, although Gettysburg, Shiloh, Fredericksburg and Manassas each hold their own. Antietam stands out because of its rural setting, its pastoral feel, its iconic highlights (the cornfield, sunken road, Burnside Bridge). It’s easy to combine with Harper’s Ferry, WV, which is not a battlefield per se but worthy for its historical significance (John Brown’s raid on the armory) and its gorgeous setting. I liked Appomadox too, mostly to see the restored buildings including the McLean House where Lee surrendered. It’s amazing to think that the War in Virginia started at McLean’s farm near Manasas and ended at his home in Appomadox where he had moved to get away from the conflict. One of history’s mysteries, for sure….
I have visited Antietam and Gettysburgh. I agree, Antietam is really scenic. Definitely a crazy coincidence that the war started in his backyard and ended in his living room as they say on the Ken Burns PBS special.
I’m actually amazed that you were able to drive all night AND spend four hours at this National Military site. That speaks volumes about how interesting it is.
My American history isn’t great – despite my kids going to school in the US and getting plenty of history. I do like reading about history and am pretty sure I’d find much of this site interesting as well. Yesterday we stopped at a site that was a bloody battlefield in the late 1800’s in Canada – and now it’s just peaceful and serene – and hard to imagine soldiers hunkered down in the rifle pits hoping to walk away with their lives.
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It was a cool crisp day and I was glad to get out of the car. After I left the battlefield, I got in the car and drove another 30 miles before getting a hotel, watched the Bears lose to Green Bay, and passed out.
I would love to visit a few battlefields in Canada. The Plains of Abraham for one.
my civil war battlefields are few… but, I jjust recently visitied Gettysburg and found it extremely interesting… i am certain to visit a few more as I travel… and to be honest, I never heard of this one, but did hear of all the others mentioned in the post and comments… odd, since it was so important…
stay learning, Craig
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Unless you are a Civil War buff, the name Chickamauga might not ring a bell as it was not as famous as the eastern battles and the march on Atlanta. There was no Grant, Lee, Stonewall, or any really famous commander.