Tennessee's Civil War Sesquicentennial: Commemoration and Memorialization

As the fall season approaches, I want to take this opportunity to let readers of The Posterity Project know about a few events coming up on the calendar.

In October, my wife, Traci Nichols-Belt, author of our book, Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War, has a speaking role in the upcoming Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Signature Event in Chattanooga. On Saturday, October 12th, Traci will be on a panel of distinguished historians moderated by our new State Historian, Dr. Carroll Van West, and will speak about the Chattanooga Confederate Cemetery and the role of religion in its commemoration and memorialization.

This monument to "Our Confederate Dead"
at the Confederate Cemetery was erected in 1877.
Author photo.
The history surrounding the Confederate Cemetery dates back to 1862 when numerous Confederate casualties began arriving in Chattanooga hospitals. Most of the graves are of soldiers who died in hospitals in Chattanooga from wounds received in the Battle of Stones River (Second Battle of Murfreesboro) and from sickness and wounds incurred in the campaigns from January to September 1863, when Chattanooga was evacuated by the Confederate troops. Those men who died in Chattanooga Confederate Hospitals were originally buried in a plot of ground located near the Tennessee River, but frequent flooding washed over many of those graves and wooden headboards were lost for about 141 of them.

After the war, veterans of the Civil War and the Confederate women of Chattanooga sought to move the graves to higher ground. As early as 1867, veterans groups acquired land for the upper half of the cemetery’s current location near the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga -- my undergrad alma mater. Sources have estimated that as many as 2,500 soldiers were eventually buried in the cemetery.

The Confederate Cemetery was the site of several memorial services, and Chattanooga served as the site of the First National Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans in 1890. In the years that followed, many more reunions took place there, and the cemetery became an important part of the Civil War commemoration and memorialization ceremonies.

The last burial at the Confederate Cemetery occurred in 2001, after a soldier's remains were found during an excavation project on Missionary Ridge. A memorial service took place on April 21, 2001 with full military honors. About 80 people took part in a service at Christ Church Episcopal on the night before the burial. About 250 more turned out for the reinterment ceremony, many wearing both Union blue and Confederate gray, and traveling as far away as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana to take part in the service.

After decades of neglect, in 1995 the Chattanooga Confederate Cemetery was restored through the combined efforts of the City of Chattanooga and members of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, the latter two groups having raised funds for the restoration. Author photo.

Traci and I are both looking forward to our visit back to my hometown to take part in the Civil War Sesquicentennial Event in Chattanooga. We hope you'll join us on Saturday, October 12th for this panel discussion, and Traci's presentation on the Chattanooga Confederate Cemetery. Traci's bio, a list of other scheduled speakers, and a full itinerary and registration information for the Sesquicentennial Signature Event is posted on the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission's website. All events are free and open to the public, and space should fill up fast, so be sure to make your plans now to attend.

In the meantime, we have a couple of other events on our calendar that you'll also want to note. First, Traci and I plan to visit the West End Church of Christ in Nashville on Monday, September 9th to discuss our book, Onward Southern Soldiers. This is the third church group that we've spoken to during our book tour, and we're always grateful for the interest expressed by the church communities of Nashville and the surrounding areas. If you'd like to schedule us for a talk, please visit our "Events" page for more information.

Our second event in September is on Thursday, September 19th at the Fort Donelson Civil War Round Table at the Stewart County Visitors Center at 117 Visitor Center Lane, in Dover, Tennessee. Meetings at the Fort Donelson Civil War Round Table are free and open to the public. Again, check our "Events" page for more details and for a list of future book signings and lectures on our calendar.

As always, we want to thank our loyal readers for your support of our book tour and writing projects. We're grateful for your continued interest, and look forward to meeting you at one or more of these great venues.

Traci Nichols-Belt is the author of Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War, published by The History Press. Traci holds a Master's degree in public history from Middle Tennessee State University and a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Anderson University. Her principal research interest is the Civil War, with a particular focus on the impact of religion on the military. Traci has appeared on radio and television to speak about the role of religion in the Civil War, and she has had her writings published in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly and in The New York Times Civil War blog, Disunion.