"That hallowed spot!" Commemoration and Memorialization at Chattanooga's Confederate Cemetery

Last week, my wife, Traci, had the honor to be a part of a panel discussion on the topic of "Commemoration and Memorialization" at the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Signature Event in Chattanooga. Organizers of this four-day symposium presented an outstanding program, with my professional colleagues from the Tennessee State Library and Archives playing a critical role in the festivities. Traci and I are grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this historic event.

Traci's presentation on the last day of the symposium focused on the Confederate Cemetery in Chattanooga, and how religion influenced commemoration ceremonies held there over the years. The topic tied in quite nicely with themes documented in her book, Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War. Traci provided an overview of the history of the cemetery, and shared insights about how the soldiers buried there were remembered throughout the years.

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.

This monument to "Our Confederate Dead"
at the Confederate Cemetery was erected in 1877.
Author photo.

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.

I want to publicly thank Tennessee's State Historian, Dr. Carroll Van West, members of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, all of whom helped make Traci's appearance at this Signature Event possible.

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.