People who live in Chattanooga think they live in the most interesting city in Tennessee, and they may be right.
In terms of the state’s social studies curriculum, Chattanooga comes up four times:
* Stories of the Tennessee River before dams changed it forever
* Ross’s Landing and the Trail of Tears
* The city’s Civil War saga
* Chattanooga’s association with so many commonly known food products
The wild river
Today the Tennessee River just downstream from Chattanooga is as placid as a lake because of Nickajack Dam. But in the old days, the river in this part of Tennessee was wild and treacherous.
Nashville’s original settlers, floating down the Tennessee River, were attacked by Chickamaugans led by Dragging Canoe. This happened in and near present-day Chattanooga, where there were Chickamaugan villages with names such as Running Water and Nickajack.
Back then, the river was wild. If you were floating down the Tennessee River you could expect to encounter one dangerous place after another — rapids, tricky currents, unexpected shallow areas, places where boulders came so close to the surface that your boat would hit them and possibly capsize.
These areas went by names such as “The Suck,” “The Pot,” “The Skillet,” and “The Pan.” It may sound fun now, but it was a nightmare to the people trying to make their way down the river.
In September 1794, a military offensive called the Nickajack Expedition destroyed the Chickamaugans. Click here to read a brutal first-person account of the Nickajack Expedition.
The river itself remained wild until a dam created in the early 20th century forever flooded the legendary places such as “The Suck” and “The Skillet.” Now, we can only imagine what the river was like then.
In 1815 Cherokee chief John Ross started a trading post, warehouse, and ferry about a mile upstream from where “The Suck” began. His trading post became known as Ross’s Landing.
The area would remain known as Ross’s Landing until 1838, when the Indian Removal Act was executed in what we now refer to as the Trail of Tears. The area around Chattanooga was a staging point during Indian Removal; more than 16,000 Cherokees started their long journey to Oklahoma from this part of the state.
Today there is a short walk near the Tennessee Aquarium called which represents the beginning of the Trail of Tears.
Each of Tennessee’s four large cities can claim it had a Civil War battle. But Chattanooga had much more than that. It had an invasion; a battle; a seige; a series of manuevers; another battle; and then another battle.
Collectively, these events are known as the “Chattanooga Campaign,” and some consider it the turning point of the war.
When the Civil War began, Chattanooga had only 2,500 residents.
Union and Confederate troops fought so hard over the city because of railroads. In the years before the Civil War, two of the most important railroads in the South were the one that linked Nashville to Savannah, Georgia, and the one that linked Memphis to Charleston, South Carolina. These two rail links intersected in Chattanooga.
In 1863 a Confederate army under General Braxton Bragg retreated southeast through Tennessee, following the route that now follows Interstate 24. In July that army marched into Chattanooga, and a couple of months later it retreated out of Chattanooga, still heading southeast. The union troops invaded the city and probably felt pretty good about themselves as they chased the Confederate army toward Georgia.
On September 18, the Confederate army stopped and fought, resulting in a confusing and bloody battle at a dense area near Chickamauga Creek (just south of the state line, in Georgia). It was the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War (second only to Gettysburg). Over a fourth of the men in each army were either killed or wounded.
The Union Army hobbled back into Chattanooga. The Confederate Army climbed Lookout Mountain and “laid seige” to the city — which means it pointed guns at Chattanooga and tried to make certain that no one could come to or leave from there.
This was a grim moment for the Union Army. President Abraham Lincoln quickly sent thousands of soldiers from other parts of the country to Chattanooga and replaced Union General Rosecrans with Ulysses S. Grant. Today many historians believe that Confederate General Bragg made a huge mistake by not attacking right then.
In November, the Union Army began its counterattack. Union troops charged up Lookout Mountain, retaking it from the Confederates. The battle took place on a foggy day, and the skirmish became known as the “Battle above the Clouds.” Today if you go to the top of Lookout Mountain and look down at the hill that these men charged up, it is amazing to imagine.
Back on the offensive, the Union Army marched out of Chattanooga and pushed the Confederates back toward Georgia, to a place called Missionary Ridge. Another bloodly battle occurred only a few miles from where one had taken place weeks earlier. This time the Union Army, now under the command of General Grant, prevailed.
After the battle Confederate General Bragg resigned, and his army withdrew into Georgia. The stage was sent for the invasion of that state by Union General William T. Sherman.
By the way, a writer named George Prentice later wrote a poem about the Battle of Lookout Mountain. Click here to read it.
Chattanooga produces more than its share of fun things to eat and drink. Here are three of them:
* Coca-Cola — The Coca-Cola drink was invented by an Atlanta drug store operator in 1886. But for years you had to go into a drug store, where it was mixed by hand, and sit down to enjoy the drink.
In 1899 the owner of the Coca-Cola formula (Asa Candler of Atlanta) signed an agreement with two entrepreneurs in Chattanooga (Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead).
After adding a third partner, the Chattanooga businessmen began bottling Coke and selling bottling rights to other companies across the county. It was then and only then that people across the country began buying and drinking Coke in large quantities.
* Krystal — Ever eat a Krystal burger? The Krystal restaurant chain was originally founded in 1932 in Chattanooga, and it’s still based there. By the way, the original name came from the idea that the restaurants were supposed to be as clean as a crystal ball, or “Krystal Klean.”
* MoonPie — The MoonPie was originally invented in 1919 by the Chattanooga Bakery Co. Click here to read a story on the company’s official web site about the origins of the MoonPie.