As protesters across the nation calling for racial justice topple statues and deface monuments or urge their removal, how will Walker County balance acknowledging its Civil War past and honoring contributions by historic figures who did not always live up to America’s ideals with respecting all cultures and healing wounds of what protesters call ongoing systemic racism and discrimination?
The September 1863 Battle of Chickamauga was the second costliest battle of the Civil War, resulting in nearly 35,000 total casualties. Capturing nearby Chattanooga, the railroad hub of the South, was so essential for Union victory that battles were fought there in June 1862 and August 1863 before the Chattanooga Campaigns in November 1863 wrested control from Confederate forces; smaller battles were fought in the area, including the Battle Above the Clouds on Lookout Mountain, and as Union troops marched towards Atlanta. The Great Locomotive Chase ended just north of Ringgold when Confederates caught up to the General, a locomotive stolen by Union volunteers as part of a plan to do as much damage as possible to Western and Atlantic Railroad (W&A) line from Atlanta to Chattanooga as they went; the raiders abandoned the locomotive when it ran out of water and wood.
Chickamauga is home to America’s first national military park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
“I don’t feel like my Confederate ancestor was a traitor,” said John Culpepper, Chickamauga’s previous city manager. Culpepper is chairman of the state’s Civil War Commission, a Civil War reenactor and founder of the Private John Ingraham Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Culpepper said he calls monuments like the ones at the center of the national controversy “memorials” because they are dedicated to men who died in war. Many Confederate soldiers were buried in unmarked or mass graves, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned many of the monuments erected 50 years after the Civil War in the South as memorials for those grieving families.
Unfortunately, the memorials were erected during the Jim Crow era, which has increasingly lead to characterizing the memorials as symbols of oppression. He explained that he feels a desire to memorialize lost loved ones was a more significant motivation for the monuments than stoking racist sentiments.
Culpepper said he has been upset and disappointed at the destruction of monuments — and not just those related to the Confederacy — and would like to see civil discussions and due process when considering moving monuments.
“This moment is important for education about the complexity of the past and of human characters from the past,” David Boyle, president of the Walker County Historical Society, said. “No historical leader was perfect in his/her own time or in light of modern values. We are all creatures of our time and have gaps of knowledge and of living up to the highest values of today.
“I suspect that those of us living today will be judged very harshly by our surviving descendants for the environmental disasters that we are now inflicting on them by our abuse of the natural world and the change of the climate,” he said. “They will wonder: What were they thinking? How could they use up and spoil the earth’s resources for their own comfort?”
“There is not any time, energy, need nor purpose for destruction,” said Beverly Foster, president of the Walker County African American Historical and Alumni Association Inc. (WCAAHAA), who advocates to create a learning environment because “all history must be told.”
“The impact (of destroying historic monuments and markers) will be lasting,” Boyle said. “I don’t agree with the destruction of monuments although some may need to be moved or interpreted with additional facts and context. I fear that the loose movement of angry young people is acting on impulse and without in-depth knowledge of history. Their goals may be worthy, but the method of tearing down monuments may be misguided.”
Each culture that participated in developing a society must have an opportunity tell its “own story” in a positive and respectful way manner, Foster explained.
“We will all not agree, but we all can respect each other’s history when told in the proper places,” Foster said.
The review of monuments and public displays about historical figures and events caused by the controversy may be positive because they are causing the public to question what and whom society glorifies, Boyle said. He is unaware of any of the statues pulled down in recent protests representing women, for example.
Boyle suggests peaceful demonstrations, public debates, formal requests to local governments, letters to the editor and street theater as ways to start the dialogue.
Foster recognizes that “a great deal of work” will be needed to focus on “progressive diversity,” she said.
“Walker County needs an African American memorial park that highlights the progress of Walker County’s African Americans beyond enslavement,” she stated, adding that Chickamauga Masonic Lodge No. 221, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, needs repair.
“I think we have a lot going on relative to inclusive history,” Boyle said. In addition to efforts by WCAAHAA, Walker County has the Reconciliation Project (with the EJI in Montgomery), the Marsh House display of African American connection with the house and Marsh family, and a new effort to make a place in LaFayette to celebrate local African American achievements.
Culpepper supports efforts to be more inclusive in interpreting history. The Georgia Civil War Commission has used ground penetrating radar to find unmarked graves in the first African American cemetery in Walker County, and he believes slaves from the Gordon family in Chickamauga are probably buried there, he said.
These graves can help educate the community about its history.
“We’re all in this together,” Culpepper said.
“The county was very divided with about 1/3 of the population remaining loyal to the Union throughout the war,” Boyle explained. Union sentiment was high in the hill and ridge areas: Noble, Rock Spring, Pigeon Mountain, John’s Mountain and Flintstone, as well as around Chickamauga.
“Only after the terrible depression following the war and during Reconstruction when everyone suffered did the population become more united again and the Southern sentiment became more pervasive,” Boyle said.
Boyle explained that the Lost Cause movement wrote history books as if the South was totally united in favor of the War of Secession. The North was also divided.
Local leaders don’t want the county to be known just for Civil War history. Walker leaders, in partnership with the Walker Chamber of Commerce, started rebranding the county as an outdoor adventure destination in 2017 and launched Walker Rocks in 2018, Joe Legge, Walker county public relations director, said.
Chickamauga Mayor Ray Crowder has not received any complaints about Confederate monuments or suggestions to add interpretive signage near existing monuments to be more inclusive.
Chickamauga’s connection to the Civil War is inescapable. Several streets are named for key figures from both the Confederate and Union armies, and informational signage is found throughout the downtown.
Culpepper supported efforts to erect a statue of Jerome Henderson in Chickamauga to represent the common Confederate soldier. At the start of the Civil War, Henderson and Clark Gordon stood in front of what is now known as the Gordon Lee Mansion to raise a company of Confederate soldiers for the Georgia militia from Crawfish Springs, as Chickamauga was then known. For this reason, he feels the statue is located in the proper place, he said.
Culpepper marketed the community as the “Gettysburg of the South” and was instrumental in establishing the Chickamauga Campaign Heritage Trail, a heritage tourism initiative involving the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau; cities of Chickamauga, Fort Oglethorpe, LaFayette, Lookout Mountain, Ringgold, Rossville, Summerville, Trenton and Trion; and the following counties: Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Walker and Marion in Tennessee.
The heritage trail also included the installation of informational signage at the sites featured on the trail.
During Culpepper’s tenure as city manager, a Civil War-themed mural was painted years ago on the side of a downtown building adjacent to the railroad tracks.
The city’s historic Lee and Gordon’s Mills and Gordon Lee Mansion are tourism draws. Civil War reenactors have recreated the Battle at Chickamauga, with then-Vice President Dick Cheney, whose great-grandfather was a sergeant with the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry and fought in the historic battle, attending its 145th anniversary.
Other sites of interest include the Walker County Regional Heritage/Train Museum; Holland Watson Veterans Memorial Park, which was named for two Chickamauga soldiers mortally wounded in Vietnam; the coke ovens that played a role in the community’s development after the Civil War; and Crawfish Springs, a vital source of water for early settlers — including Native Americans — and troops from both sides during the battle.
A section of the LaFayette City Cemetery, known as “Confederate Square” is the final resting place for the Confederate soldiers from Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee killed during the June 1864 Battle of LaFayette.
Tours and local events are now held at the Marsh House, now a museum and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Union soldiers occupied the Marsh House, which was built in 1836, for a portion of time during the Civil War.
The house sits adjacent to Chattooga Academy, one of the state’s extant oldest brick school buildings. Local historians report that Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg planned the Battle of Chickamauga under an oak tree in front of the school, also built in 1836.
It was eventually renamed John B. Gordon Hall after the Confederate general who attended school there as a child. Gordon also served as Georgia governor later in his life and two terms as a U.S. senator.
Adjacent to the historic school is Joe Stock Memorial Park and features several monuments to veterans, including a Purple Heart Combat Wounded memorial to all five branches of the military and a monument to the Confederate soldiers of Walker County. That monument was erected by the Chickamauga Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1909.
LaFayette Mayor Andy Arnold said there have been no complaints or threats against any of the sites or monuments in the city, nor has there been any discussion among the city council of making any changes to the sites or monuments.
Perhaps one of the most well-known Civil War monuments, outside of Chickamauga and the Chickamauga Battlefield, is the 72-foot Iowa monument, which sits at the south edge of Missionary Ridge on Chickamauga Avenue in Rossville.
A delegation from Iowa, including some Civil War veterans, dedicated the monument Nov. 20, 1906. It recognizes 10 separate Iowa regiments and the 1st Battery that fought in battles on Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Ringgold Gap in November 1863. The monument is owned by the National Park Service, according to Rossville Mayor Teddy Harris.
Another main attraction in Rossville is the famed John Ross House, which sits on Andrews Street near the equally-as-famous duck pond. Built in 1797 for John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, the house is the oldest in the Chattanooga area; its role in the Civil War was somewhat minor as it served mainly as a hospital for both sides in the war.
Harris said that there have been no complaints or threats to either of the sites.
Point Park and the Craven House are on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee; however, there are no Civil War monuments or streets named after Civil War figures within the city limits of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, Lookout Mountain City Manager Brad Haven said.
Walker County’s Confederate monuments are in memorial parks, battlefields and cemeteries and on private property; they were erected by community organizations or are within city limits, officials said.
Foster said she is glad that no Confederate monument currently sits on the Walker County Courthouse grounds because all citizens must feel free of intimidation in the legal system when on courthouse grounds that are for all U.S. citizens.
Three years ago the Chattanooga chapter of the NAACP pushed a petition calling for the removal of Confederate Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart’s statue from outside Tennessee’s Hamilton County Courthouse and suggesting the Chickamauga Battlefield as a more appropriate home for it. The monument is federally protected as part of the National Park Service; park officials at that time explained that the monuments exist because former Confederates and Union soldiers came together after the war to place markers to tell the stories of the people who fought in the area as part of the battles for Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Hamilton County commissioners subsequently voted to leave the statue in place.
“The Confederate soldier in front of Chattooga Academy (in LaFayette) is located in a historic quarter with lots of other monuments and markers,” Boyle said. “There is room for adding informational markers and the addition of a marker/monument to the Union soldiers from Walker County.”
Foster said although some of these may be on county or city property, the WCAAHAA has worked closely with Walker County, the city of Chickamauga, middle schools, Chickamauga Public Library, LaFayette-Walker County Public Library, the Marsh House, the Gordon Lee Mansion, the 6th Cavalry Museum and others to incorporate African American history on projects in the past. She is also pleased with community efforts to have the Chickamauga Masonic Lodge No. 221 listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Walker County commissioner’s office has not received any comments regarding monuments, Legge said.
Culpepper is concerned that local governments are not complying with the state law to protect monuments.
The law, which became effective April 26, 2019, protects monuments, statues, flags, and other memorials built on private or public property and which are dedicated to historically significant military, religious, civil, civil rights, political, social or cultural events. The law includes Confederate statues and other memorials built to honor military service.
State Sen. Jeff Mullis, one of the bill’s sponsor, said at the time of the bill’s passage, “I believe it is important for all of Georgia’s history to remain a part of our society today so that our future generations can know where they came from, what has occurred in our past and avoid any injustices in the future.”
Anyone who damages or removes a monument without replacing it will be guilty of a misdemeanor and will be required to pay damages three times the amount of financial losses suffered.
The law allows state and local governments to relocate monuments when necessary for reasons such as constructing, expanding or altering buildings, roads and highways and must place them at a location of similar prominence, honor, visibility and access.
Relocated monuments cannot be put in a museum or cemetery unless they were originally placed at such a location, according to the law.
As the nation attempts to come to terms with the lasting legacy slavery, how will Walker County revisit another ugly chapter from America’s past: its treatment of Native Americans — including forced removal on the Trail of Tears, Indian Wars waged by the U.S. Army in which African American Buffalo Soldiers fought, failure to honor treaties, forced cultural assimilation and herding tribes onto reservations where disease and starvation ravaged the populations?
“Today, Indians are the poorest of all American ethnic groups. The suicide rate is 27 times the national average,” Father Michael Carson, a Choctaw Indian and assistant director of Native American affairs for the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church, said in an article published in “America” magazine in 2018.
The Washington Redskins are renaming their organization. Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a large portion of eastern Oklahoma remains a Native American reservation on the basis of a treaty signed with the Creek Nation in the 19th century, and environmental activists scored legal victories in attempts to block two major oil pipelines. Christopher Columbus statues have been pulled down, and the appropriateness of a federal holiday in his honor is questioned.
Walker County has a rich Native American history, too. The John Ross House remains in Rossville, and Cherokee Chief John Ross was a slaveholder. A historic marker notes the former location of a removal fortification in LaFayette, Fort Cumming.
How will current events affect the interpretation of this history and how the historical figures involved are viewed?
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.
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.
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 www.nps.gov.
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.
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.
LaFayette Presbyterian Church’s Bird Box ministry is an important aspect of the life of the church. During this time of pandemic the ministry has continued and flourished thanks to the support of the congregation, community, and especially those on the Session. The bird box is a small food pantry located in the Memorial Park across Withers Street from the church at 107 N. Main St. The food is available to anyone in the community; no questions asked, just pick it up.
Sunday, July 19, after virtual worship, the Gunter family brought, sorted and safely delivered crates of food to other members of the congregation for delivery to the Bird Box each day this week. This project is funded through the generosity of the LaFayette Presbyterian Church family and the Patton fund.
This delivery system is going to be a new and exciting way to continue this ministry that helps many in the community.
Each day it costs between $40-50 to fill the Bird Box with food.
To help support this ministry call the church at 706-683-3932, email the church at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on the Bird Box post on the church’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LafayettePres/.
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 bloodassurance.org/quickscreen.
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 www.bloodassurance.org, 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 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.