In November of 2013 I had a chance to visit Chattanooga Tennessee on the 150th anniversary of the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. This is a story of my experiences.....
In 1997 when I was a photojournalist for The Times, I wrote a series of stories about two Civil War soldiers found on a tombstone in a forgotten cemetery.
The LaSalle County Genealogy Guild was cataloging different LaSalle County cemeteries and was in the process of clearing and identifying stones in Bernard Cemetery near Somonauk. A broken and tumbled stone, hardly readable due to the effects of over a hundred years of rain and weather was being cataloged.
The stone read “CARVOSSO, died Mar. 4 1868 aged 26 years, 4 days. WALTER, fatally wounded at Mission Ridge Nov. 25, 1863 and died at Chattanooga, Tenn. Dec. 13, 1863 aged 20 yrs. 8 ms. 11 ds. Both were with the 36th Ill. Vol. Infantry.”
|The article as it first appeared in The Times in 1997.|
Through a year long research project I found out that Carvosso and Walter Reeder were brothers, enlisting and serving in the 36th Illinois Infantry, company C. I have both brothers’ pension and medical records and a collection of over 60 letters sent home from Walter from 1861-1863. Through his letters, regimental histories, news articles and state and federal documents I was able to put together an amazing biography of Walter. I understood from his first person perspective what it was like to be a young man, traveling far from home while serving as a soldier in the Civil War.
Walter Reeder was mortally wounded while scaling the hillside of Missionary Ridge during the battle on November 25, 1863. From “History of the Thirty-Sixth Regiment Illinois Volunteers, During the War of the Rebellion” pages 532-533 “Among all the noble spirits that that day struggled so grandly for their country’s flag, there was none more heroic than Walter V. Reeder, Company C of the 36th, who, having received the wound in the thigh, of which he died in about two weeks, lay bleeding on the hill-side, and taking a handkerchief out of his pocket, waved it towards the top of the ridge, silently inspiring his comrades to complete what he had so gallantly helped to commence."
November 24-25th 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the battles in Chattanooga, Tn. I decided that this would be the perfect weekend to finally make the drive to Tennessee and visit the battle sites and areas where Walter and Carvosso fought, and where Walter was mortally wounded and died serving his country.
The drive from my home in Illinois to Chattanooga, Tn. is 458 miles. It took me through parts of Indiana, Kentucky and finally Tennessee. The rolling hills of southern Indiana and Kentucky opened up into mountain passes and steep cliffs as I approached the Chattanooga area. Driving wasn’t difficult, but all I could think about is how the troops maneuvered through trails and crude roadways on their way through these mountain passes.
On Friday evening I enjoyed a wonderful talk by Earl J. Hess, professor of history at Lincoln Memorial University. The talk titled “Chattanooga, Knoxville and the Struggle for East Tennessee in the Civil War” was fantastic. I learned the importance of Chattanooga, and how it ultimately became the gateway to the South and the staging area for Sherman’s march to the sea. Chattanooga was vital because of it’s proximity to the Tennessee River, as well as the railroad lines. Walter and the rest of the 36th Illinois Regiment in the Army of the Cumberland pushed Braxton Bragg out of the Chattanooga valley through a series of advances. In the fall they found themselves under siege in Chattanooga, with Confederate forces controlling the hills and major supply routes around the city.
It was because of a strengthened Union army and weakened Confederate forces that Union soldiers were able to break out of their siege and gain victories at Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. This ended the siege and pushed Bragg and the Confederacy out Chattanooga.
Saturday morning I made my first stop at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. Although both Carvosso and Walter are on the tombstone in Somonauk, Walter is buried in Chattanooga. It was a brisk morning, overcast and breezy. At 9 am on a Saturday in Chattanooga, I was the only one on the cemetery grounds. It was quiet, and serene with both Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain looking on from afar at row after row of white headstones. After orienting myself I started walking up a slight incline. Finally amongst rows of neatly arranged stones I was able to find Walter V. Reeder buried alongside his fallen comrades in section D, stone 12597. His stone is weather worn, but still easily readable, and faces a magnificent view of Lookout Mountain.
Walter V. Reeder’s headstone, number 12597 in section D of the Chattanooga National Cemetery, surrounded by other fallen comrades from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. Reeder’s headstone faces a magnificent view of Lookout Mountain.
It was a strange meeting of sorts. Here was a man I knew so much about, through his letters, records and stories. I was standing on his grave site, two days before he was mortally wounded 150 years ago. After visiting his grave, I wanted to walk in Walter’s footsteps and visit the battle sites in Chattanooga.
Orchard Knob is a small rise which at the time was outside of the city of Chattanooga in 1863. It was among a vast plain that stretched out from the city to both Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. To test the strength of Confederate forces, Federal troops were sent out from Fort Wood on November 23, 1863. This was supposed to be a “reconnaissance in force” where troops would march out toward Orchard Knob without engaging Confederate troops, and then return to the fort in an effort to test the strength of the Confederate army. Jim Ogden, park historian with Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park led a minute by minute account of the happenings exactly 150 years ago. “If you were standing here at this precise moment, you would see columns of Federal forces marching right towards you.” Ogden said while gesturing down the street in a Chattanooga neighborhood which used to be Fort Wood.
Confederate forces that occupied Orchard Knob were not well fed, and had their spirits broken by a long drawn out siege with Federal forces. Ogden said “what is the first thing that you stop doing when you have low morale? You stop bathing. From the vantage point of Federal officers looking at the Confederate forces in the rifle pits at Orchard Knob, they men looked like prairie dogs. They were so blackened by the fire smoke and their lack of hygiene.” This “reconnaissance in force” was so effective that Confederates were easily pushed off Orchard Knob, and Federal officers used it as their headquarters for the next two day’s battles. They had an amazing vantage point for both Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.
On November 24th, 1863 the Reeder brothers would have watched the battle of Lookout Mountain from Orchard Knob. Federal forces under command of Joseph Hooker assaulted Lookout Mountain. They were not supposed to attack full force, but General Hooker pushed on and by nightfall, Confederate forces had abandoned the crest of Lookout Mountain. It was a day long battle, with Federal forces climbing and fighting the sides of the mountain, some times shrouded in fog. The battle was often called “The Battle Above the Clouds.”
I visited Cravens House, which is on a flat outcrop about half way up Lookout Mountain. It was where fierce battles were fought between retreating Confederate forces and advancing Federal Forces as they made their way up the mountainside.
I took a short trail to what is left of Confederate rifle pits in and around Cravens House. The weather was cool, almost freezing temperatures that morning. It was amazingly quiet, with only the rustle of leaves and the occasional hiker passing by. It was totally different 150 years ago, with thousands of men firing and assaulting the mountain, dying, screaming, and dodging shot and shell. It must have been a hellish experience. The ground is covered in fall leaves, and underneath the footing was difficult with rocks, tree roots, saplings and other obstacles to navigate. I cannot imagine carrying a pack, rife, wearing wool clothing and smooth bottom leather shoes while being shot at and climbing this mountain.
A cut in the rock along the rifle pit trail leading from Cravens House on Lookout Mountain. It was a chilly morning as I walked this trail exactly 150 years to the day of the battle for Lookout Mountain.
Instead of climbing to the top, I opted for the scenic roadway that takes you to the Point Park at the summit of Lookout Mountain. The panoramic scenery from the top of Lookout Mountain is amazing.
Historians were demonstrating different aspects of military duties at Point Park. One group was demonstrating the importance of the signal corps for both Federal and Confederate forces during the war. Jerry Lutes, park ranger for Stones River National Battlefield Park explained how important signaling was in getting important messages delivered in a timely manner. Lutes described how it took 16 hours by horseback to deliver a message to General Thomas. “On a clear day you can send a signal eight to ten miles. Using the signal corps it took a message that would take 16 hours to deliver by horseback down to 30 minutes.”
By daybreak on November 25th, 1863 the Stars and Stripes replaced the Confederate flag at the top of Lookout Mountain. Cheers could be heard across the valley as Federal forces celebrated this victory. Carrying the momentum from the victory of Lookout Mountain, Federal forces began their attack on Missionary Ridge, the headquarters of Confederate General Braxton Bragg.
After being under siege in the city of Chattanooga for months, Walter and the rest of the Army of the Cumberland were supposed to be the reserve force for this offensive. They were stationed in the middle of the battlefield waiting for orders in and around Orchard Knob. Things weren’t going so well on both the right and left flanks, both General Hooker and General Sherman were having resistance from the Confederate armies. Orders were given for the Army of the Cumberland to leave Orchard Knob and charge across the plain and take the rifle pits at the bottom of Missionary Ridge. The boys advanced, exposed to shot and shell and quickly made it to the bottom of the ridge. Once there they decided to take matters into their own hands. Anton Heinlein, park ranger for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park stated “25,000 men without orders charged up the slope of Missionary Ridge.”
At the Bragg Reservation on the summit of Missionary Ridge, Confederate forces held their ground until they were overwhelmed by Federal infantry climbing their way up to the summit. This location on the ridge is the place where forces from the 36th Illinois Regiment made their way up the hillside, and where regimental colors were planted on November 25, 1863. It is also close to the place where Walter was mortally wounded. I could almost see him “silently inspiring his comrades to complete what he had so gallantly helped to commence.”
At the top of Missionary Ridge I met Dale and Sharon Hargett who drove three hours from Birmingham, Alabama to visit the battle site. They too were in a quest to find a soldier that fought during the battle of Missionary Ridge. Sharon’s great-great grandfather Joseph Inman Faught was with the 36th Alabama Infantry, Company B. He was captured during the assault on Missionary Ridge. Sharon brought Mr. Faught’s military papers which read “Captured at Missionary Ridge November 25, 1863. On Sept 29, 1864 I volunteered from Rock Island prison to go to the Western frontier and fight the Indians.”
A monument dedicated to the Illinois Regiments that broke through Confederate lines near the site of Braxton Braggs' headquarters on November 25, 1863 on top of Missionary Ridge.
The drive to Chattanooga was an amazing experience, especially on the 150th anniversary of the battles fought there during the Civil War. I had goose bumps on more than one occasion. I enjoyed experiencing the sights and sounds, the weather, and the interpretations of history told through park rangers, living historians, and the many plaques and monuments placed in and around the battle sites. Thank you Walter V. Reeder for your service…for opening up a fantastic lifelong journey of history and learning through the soldiers of the Civil War.