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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Georgia Mountains

By The Georgia Conservancy

Design by Lenz, Inc. Decatur, Georgia.



Sherpa Guides > Georgia Mountains > Cumberland Plateau > The Chickamauga Valley

The Chickamauga Valley

The Chickamauga Valley lies between the Cumberland Plateau's Lookout Mountain to the west and the Armuchee Ridges to the east. Where it divides the "thumb" of Pigeon Mountain from Lookout Mountain is the famed McLemore Cove. The Chickamauga Valley forms a natural passageway between the high ridges on either side. Because it gives access to both Chattanooga and the Tennessee River and contains a few low ridges, it was the site of much movement and conflict during the Civil War.

The Chickamauga Valley is not just one valley but a series of northeast-southwest trending valleys with limestone floors and ridges some 200 to 300 feet high, capped with more weather-resistant rock. Down through these valleys and across the ridges between Chattanooga and Atlanta, Union army forces under General William Sherman pursued Confederate troops during the fighting which led to the Battle of Atlanta near the end of the Civil War. Visitors to the military parks at Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Orchard Knob, as well as other areas such as the lovely and serene McLemore Cove, will come away with a clearer understanding of how the natural geology of the region has helped shape recent human history.

From the Chickamauga Valley, especially GA 337, one can reach a variety of natural features lying at the base of the Pigeon Mountain escarpment. These include giant, dry, forest sinkholes; Blue Hole; and the entrances to the enchanting Dickson and McWhorter gulfs, deeply eroded into Pigeon Mountain's east wall.

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) Cedar chests are made from the fragrant wood of this tree. McLemore Cove

[Fig. 5(13)] A postcard-pretty valley nestled in the V formed by Lookout Mountain and Pigeon Mountain, the McLemore Cove Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. The steep limestone and sandstone walls of the mountains form a dramatic backdrop for a scenic drive through the cove. The area is almost exclusively agricultural, with small dairy farms taking up most of the land. At the southwest end of the cove is a portion of the picturesque 11,500-acre Mountain Cove Farm. Red cedars which thrive on the limestone soil here are profuse throughout the cove, particularly along West Cove Road, as indicated by the names of the natural features and landmarks: Cedar Grove Creek, Cedar Grove community, and Cedar Grove Church and Cemetery. Perhaps nowhere else in Georgia are so many cedars concentrated in such a small area.

The cove, which was named for Robert and John McLemore, sons of a white trader and a Cherokee mother, is just south of Chickamauga Battlefield. One of the Civil War battles took place at Davis Crossroads.

Near Cedar Grove Methodist Church, a large number of Union soldiers spent the night of September 17, 1863, immediately prior to the historic Battle of Chickamauga. Another antebellum structure is the 130-year-old, plantation-plain style farmhouse where the Hise family has lived for generations. It is located .5 mile south of Mt. Hermon Church on Hog Jowl Road. Most of the other old houses and buildings in the cove are not antebellum but date from the 1890s, when the railroad was built through the northern part of the cove.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

This park is comprised of four separate battlefield sites—Chickamauga, Point Park, Orchard Knob, and Missionary Ridge. The park became the first of four military parks established by Congress between 1890 and 1899, the others being Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg.

CHICKAMAUGA. [Fig. 5(7)] The Civil War battle of Chickamauga, in the northwest corner of Georgia, was the first of a series of decisive battles that culminated in the fall of Atlanta and brought the Civil War to a close. A Union force of about 58,000 men and a Confederate force of about 66,000 men clashed on the battlefield at Chickamauga September 19–20, 1863. The result, after 34,000 casualties (3,969 dead), was that the Union army retreated north to Chattanooga, then a town of about 2,500 people, and the Southern forces occupied Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, which bordered the town. Troops from 29 of the 33 states east of the Rockies engaged in the campaign; four states had troops on both sides.

The Chickamauga Battlefield visitor center has an excellent small museum containing artifacts related to the Civil War. It also houses the Fuller Gun Collection, which consists of 355 weapons dating from the Revolutionary War period through World War II. A 26-minute, multimedia show is presented daily. Books on Civil War history and four rental audiocassettes are available.

The major points of interest on the Chickamauga Battlefield, which when the battle was fought consisted of small fields, dense woods, and thick underbrush, can be reached by following a 7-mile driving tour. Monuments and markers along the road indicate the locations of units and batteries engaged in the battle.

Chickamauga contains remarkable natural environments. In the eastern portion is Georgia's best example of the remarkable cedar glades, where red cedars dominate an open forest community. The thin soil over a limestone outcrop supports rare and unique prairie plants, some found nowhere else in the state. There are late-summer displays of showy coneflowers and black-eyed susans. The only year-round stream, Cave Springs Creek, has rich aquatic fauna; large shell-bark hickories grow along it. Two quarry ponds lie just east of US 27 near its junction with Viniard Road. Several limesinks, or sagponds, occur. The most historic is Bloody Pond, near the southwestern corner of the park. The largest and most interesting limesink is just north of Alexander's Bridge over Chickamauga Creek in the southeast corner of the park. It contains huge, 36-inch-diameter willow oaks buttressed at the base. Staff is not available to assist in nature tours.

POINT PARK. [Fig. 5(3)] Point Park, although located in the Cumberland Plateau, is more conveniently discussed here, in the Chickamauga Valley section. After the Battle of Chickamauga, the Union army retreated to Chattanooga, and the Confederate army reformed battle lines around the city with the intention of starving and freezing the Union troops into submission. Point Park, strategically positioned on top of Lookout Mountain, was the location of one of those battle lines. The dominance of the location over the city below cannot be fully grasped until one stands on the edge of Point Park and looks down on Chattanooga.

A visit to this park is an opportunity to visualize the grand strategy of a major Civil War battle. During the Battle of Lookout Mountain, termed the "Battle Above the Clouds" because during the fighting a band of mist and fog hung around the middle of the mountain, the Union army drove the Confederates from their position and effectively gained control of the city.

Point Park is on the northeastern tip of Lookout Mountain. The welcome center contains a fine 13-foot-by-30-foot mural painted by James Walker, an eyewitness to the battle. A tape recording provides a narrative that describes the scene and effectively draws the visitor into the action. The small Ochs Museum in the park has an observation deck which affords a commanding view of the area.

ORCHARD KNOB. [Fig. 5(4)] This hill in front of Missionary Ridge was initially the forward position of the Confederate defense line. It was taken by Union forces, and from here General Ulysses Grant commanded the assault on Missionary Ridge. On November 25, 1863, six cannon shot from this hill signaled the beginning of the battle for the ridge. Visitors will find a half dozen state monuments and a number of cannon, but the real reason to visit Orchard Knob is the geographical perspective it gives to the fighting between Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

MISSIONARY RIDGE. [Fig. 5(5)] Missionary Ridge was occupied by the Confederate forces after the Battle of Chickamauga and was part of the battle line around Chattanooga. During the battle for the city, Union troops attacked and captured the ridge. Along the ridge are remarkable views of Orchard Knob, Chattanooga, and Lookout Mountain. Markers, plaques, and gun positions give details of troop positions and describe the action in which various units participated. The historical markers are dispersed among elegant houses.

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