By Matt Ledger
Gettysburg, Fort Sumter and Chickamauga are some of the most recognizable places from the U.S. Civil War. Lesser-known tales have become even more obscure in the 150 years that have passed since those bloody days of cannons and cavalry.
Uncovering some of those local accounts sent one area man on a mission to recognize the brave souls that crossed Lookout Mountain on their way to battle. It started nearly 10 years ago, when Charles Bass visited the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. While looking in the park’s bookstore, he wondered about a DeKalb County story he had heard regarding troop movements on Sand Mountain. That story would give Bass a set of marching orders of his own that would take years to sort out and end with a special historic marker designation.
The Path to Battle
Bass lives in Henagar and is a member of Chestnut Grove Baptist Church, a congregation that was formed in 1861. Through research, he learned that Highway 117 in Chestnut Grove was once called Caperton’s Ferry Road and carried travelers — crossed by Union troops during their Southern offensive in 1863 — from Stevenson, Alabama, to Rome, Georgia. “I’ve read where some of the troops that came through here describe DeSoto Falls in such detail you could tell where they were at on Lookout Mountain,” Bass says. For nearly two weeks during the Chickamauga Campaign, the 20th Army Corps troops were encamped near the church in Chestnut Grove, while General Alexander McCook’s headquarters occupied the Allen Plantation, near where Vulcraft of Fort Payne is now located.
Bass had a few questions and returned to Chickamauga to meet with park historian Jim Ogden. He also recruited David Rains, a retired judge and local history buff, to research the account of the Union Army moving through the area. Rains found some interesting details in the Civil War journal of Chesley A. Mosman, who had served as a Union lieutenant in the 59th Illinois Infantry Regiment. “The Rough Side of War” details Mosman’s firsthand experiences on the way to Chickamauga, including great visual descriptions of the journey. “We went on till we met open timber, chestnut and pine. There had been a hurricane across the mountain, and many trees were tore up by the root,” Mosman wrote, in early September 1863. Rains and others believe that he is describing a path carved by a tornado in the Town Creek area of Lookout Mountain, which was used as a makeshift encampment by Union forces on their way to battle. “While there were no major battles on these two mountains, Civil War records and Mosman’s journal indicate that there were almost daily skirmishes in the area,” Rains says.
Rains verified that the campsite existed in the Town Creek area, but was skeptical that a historical marker would ever be approved. Bass’ persistence paid off, and a dedication of the historical marker was held in 2011, ahead of the 150th anniversary of when the troops moved through the region. “In 2011, it coincidentally happens that another tornado ripped through that very same stretch of ground,” Rains says. Chestnut Grove Baptist Church now has an Alabama Historical Association designation as part of “The Road to Chickamauga.”
“It’s for those men who lost their lives. They were fighting for what they felt was right in their hearts and for the freedoms we have today,” Bass says.