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Local historian talks about destruction of monuments

The issue of who is worthy of a public memorial or statue is being addressed across the nation, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently.

In some cases, municipalities are moving statues to keep them safe or to remove a symbol some find offensive. Most of the targeted statues across the Southern United States are associated with slavery in some way – statues of people who owned or traded slaves.

“We shouldn’t erase history. We should face it,” says Louis Varnell, a former history teacher and Catoosa-based historian who says he has been talking about the issue of controversial monuments for years.

“As communities change, as our understanding of and feelings about some parts of history change, we have mechanisms in the United States to address these things, including referendums and laws,” he says.

The Civil War has left an indelible mark on the area, yet Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe don’t have a whole lot in the way of controversial statues or memorials. Officials in those cities say they have not received any complaints about historic monuments.

Ringgold is home to the Confederate Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne statue and to a monument featuring text about the General, a locomotive that was commandeered by Union soldiers and chased 87 miles through north Georgia by Confederates.

Fort Oglethorpe is home to a number of streets named for Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest, J.E.B. Stuart, Leonidas Polk and John Bell Hood.

Varnell says that when statues and monuments are violently destroyed, all it does is harden the feelings of people on both sides of the issue and close the door to fruitful discussions and legal ways of making changes.

“History is complicated,” says Varnell, who taught the subject in Memphis schools. “Sometimes it’s appropriate to add more text or signage around a statue or to add another statue that depicts a fuller story. Sometimes it’s appropriate to move or remove a memorial.

“We need to face the fact that our country has done some terrible things, but violence is not the way to get to a better place. Totalitarian regimes erase history.

“The United States is a great country – we can face our history honestly and peacefully and make sure the whole of it is depicted in a way we can learn from it,” he says.

Military park interprets Civil War history

Civil War veterans lobbied to create the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park to heal divisions to reunite the country and to preserve the location so that future generations could see where that history happened.

Veterans of both armies attended a reunion barbecue at Crawfish Springs, present-day Chickamauga, in 1889. Twelve thousand people attended the event, leading to the charter to establish Chickamauga battlefield as a park. The nation established the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the first U.S. national military park, in 1890 and dedicated it in 1895.

“Our interpretive rangers for many years have been doing an excellent job providing multiple perspectives,” including slaves, ex-slaves, women and others, Park Superintendent Brad Bennett said.

The park offers opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of a major Civil War battle through inclusive perspectives of history and to reflect on how history affects the present, he explained.

None of the monuments have been damaged during the recent outbreak of vandalism that has affected some areas of the country.

More than 1,000 monuments, historical markers and interpretive tablets dot the park’s landscape where Confederate and Union soldiers fought, were injured and died. States raised funds to purchase monuments to commemorate the soldiers who fought there, he said.

These guideposts indicate troop movements and commemorate sites of courageous actions.

Interpretative exhibits and materials explain how the sacrifices made in that four-year conflict preserved the union and ended slavery.

National parks belong to all citizens and welcome visitors from across the country and around the world, he said.

Reenactors and descendants of those who fought in the Battle of Chickamauga visit the area, including Vice President Dick Cheney who attended the 145th anniversary of the battle and whose great-grandfather fought in the battle as part of the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

The park is an asset of the Department of Interior’s National Park Service (NPS).

The NPS has the responsibility and authority under existing federal laws to protect and to preserve the resources entrusted to it by the American people, Bennett said. The NPS cannot alter, obscure, remove or move those resources.

Federal protection

President Trump issued an executive order June 26 to protect historic, federal monuments and statues.

The Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Activity order directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within its statutory authority, to provide personnel to assist with the protection of federal monuments, memorials, statues or property.

The DHS Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT) will coordinate departmental law enforcement agency assets to protect national historic monuments, memorials, statues and federal facilities, according to DHS. PACT will assess potential civil unrest or destruction and will allocate resources to protect people and property.

DHS’s Office of Operations Coordination will also partner closely with the Interior and Justice departments to share information and intelligence, according to DHS.

Current activities

The facility provides opportunities for fresh air, offering a great place to practice social distancing while exercising, Bennett said. He encourages visitors to bring cloth facial coverings with them in case they encounter other visitors.

Park roads and trails have reopened, and on weekends and some weekdays park rangers are posted outdoors. Visitors can obtain maps and trip planning information at

The Chickamauga Battlefield app can also help visitors locate monuments and markers throughout the park. The app can be downloaded at GooglePlay and the Apple Store.

Future plans

Park officials hope to upgrade some roads soon.

The park has a maintenance backlog of about $30 million, which includes some building maintenance but is mostly road resurfacing, he said.

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill to establish the Great American Outdoors Act, which will catch up about $15.4 million in deferred maintenance projects at the park. These funds would pay to resurface Glen-Kelly Road and Vinyard-Alexander roads.

The act passed the Senate last month and is in the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration. President Trump said he will sign the bill into law.

In the last round of road resurfacing, Lafayette Road, Reeds Bridge Road and McFarland Gap Road were resurfaced for about $6 million, he said.

Primary run-off Aug. 11, early voting now: 14th Congressional District, 3rd Catoosa Commission District

Early voting for the Aug. 11 primary runoff election is going on right now in Catoosa County.

Those who voted in the June 9 Republican primary can cast their ballots in the 14th Congressional District run-off between Republicans John Cowan and Marjorie Taylor Greene. The 14th District seat is being vacated by Rep. Tom Graves.

For voters who live in Ringgold and Graysville, there is also a runoff between incumbent Jim Cutler and challenger Vanita Hullander for the 3rd District Catoosa County Board of Commissioners seat.

Things to know:

♦ Only those who voted the Republican ticket in the June 9 primary can vote in this run-off. There is no Democrat run-off.

♦ Early voting is July 20 through Aug. 7, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Thursday, Aug.6, which is 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

♦ Early voting locations are Freedom Center, 5238 Evitt St., Ringgold; and Westside Voting Precinct, 3319 Lakeview Drive, Rossville.

♦ Election Day is Aug. 11. Voters must vote at their assigned precincts on this day. Voting hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For a district map for the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners, visit

For more information, visit or call 706-935-3990.

Blood Assurance continuing free CIOVID-19 antibody testing through September

Local nonprofit blood center Blood Assurance will continue to offer free testing for COVID-19 antibodies to blood donors through September.

Blood Assurance also currently needs O-positive, O-negative, B-negative, A-positive and AB-negative red cell donors, as well as platelet donors. They are encouraging members of the community to give blood to help local patients in need.

“We are happy we can continue offering antibody testing to all area donors in order to help collect information about exposure to coronavirus in our area,” said Dr. Liz Culler, medical director at Blood Assurance. “If you believe you had COVID-19 and did not get tested, we invite you to donate blood and be tested for the antibodies with Blood Assurance.

“Much is still unknown about the antibodies to coronavirus, and we are glad we are able to contribute information to the medical community,” she said.

Donors need to be aware this is not a diagnostic test for COVID-19 infection, and if they believe they may be currently infected, they are asked not to give blood and instead to consider visiting a healthcare provider.

It is possible for this test to provide a falsely negative or falsely positive result and not all people make antibodies when exposed to COVID-19. What a positive test indicates is that the donor may currently have or previously had COVID-19 and have developed antibodies to the virus.

Blood Assurance also encourages those who receive a positive test to continue taking all CDC recommended steps to protect themselves and others from the infection by wearing a mask, social distancing and frequently washing hands. It is currently unknown if the presence of these antibodies will protect the body from contracting COVID-19 again or how long the antibodies remain in the blood.

Blood Assurance is taking steps to ensure the health of its donors and is closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak nationally and in its service area. Special protocols are in place including extra cleaning and keeping donors and staff distanced.

Blood Assurance is also asking all donors to wear a mask at their next donation. Blood Assurance will provide masks for donors if they do not have one with them. Individuals are not at risk to contract COVID-19 through blood donation or transfusion, and it is only transferred by respiratory droplets in a cough or sneeze. Blood drives are a safe and sanitary environment and are not considered a mass gathering.

Donors can save time by answering their questions before their appointment with the Blood Assurance QuickScreen app. To download the app, visit

Blood Assurance is taking donations by appointment only to ensure social distancing and to schedule an appointment at a donor center or blood drive, donor can visit, call 800-962-0628 or text BAGIVE to 999777.

To be eligible to donate blood, donors must be at least 17 years old (16 years old with parental consent), weigh 110 pounds or more and be in good health. Donors are asked to drink plenty of fluids — avoiding caffeine — and eat a meal that is rich in iron prior to donating. Please bring a photo I.D.

Blood Assurance

Blood Assurance is a nonprofit, full-service regional blood center serving health care facilities in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. Founded in 1972 as a joint effort of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, the Chattanooga Area Hospital Council and the Chattanooga Jaycees, the mission of Blood Assurance is to provide a safe and adequate supply of blood and blood components to every area patient in need.