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By April 14, 2023 5 Comments

The town is growing, developments sprouting here and there, as what was once a sleepy village becomes more and more suburban Chattanooga. Traffic flows eagerly down roads that were not that long ago lightly traveled. That historical marker sits on a road that’s become a highway. If you want to read it, you need to park some distance away and walk, or else incur the wrath of commuters. I turned down my window and took the shot from the car. 

My sister lives in a house on a hill very near to a place once known as the Cherokee Springs Confederate Hospital. I’m told that the hospital’s footings are still there, on private land where the owner isn’t sweet on history buffs tramping around. But just the thought of a real military hospital right here–just outside of Ringgold, Georgia–conjures images that go beyond the horror words can reach. After all, Chickamauga isn’t all that far north (16 thousand Union, 18 thousand Confederate casualties–second bloodiest battle of the Civil War). 

Then came Missionary Ridge, so named for a history of Christian mission to the Cherokee, who lived here before being inhospitably pushed west on the Trail of Tears some thirty years before. Confederate losses at the Battle of Missionary Ridge were heavy too:  6,667 total (361 killed 2,160 wounded). My sister’s neighborhood has seen its far more than its share of misery.

As the Union Army reconnoitered in Chattanooga for what would become  Sherman’s March to the Sea, the Rebel army christened an immigrant Irishman named General Patrick Cleburne to hold fast–and he did. With numbers stacked fearfully against him, he engineered a retreat that wasn’t a retreat at all, allowing the Confederate army to steal away with its own precious necessities. 

If we hearken to the sign, it seems the Cherokee Ridge Hospital was largely gone by late September, 1863, before the battles that would have had the place bathed in blood (Chickamauga, 9/16/’63; Missionary Ridge, 11/25/’63; Ringgold Gap, 11/27/’63). I’m not the historian, but it seems that the  hospital up on the ridge, early on at least, may well have been more of a spa than a Civil War battlefield hospital. No matter–there’s the sign for all the world to read. . .quickly.

If I lived there, I’m sure I’d get over the feeling that the place is haunted. But on any quick visit, amid the trees on those hills, I see uniformed men still trying to stay out of the way of musket fire, some of them advancing, falling, others moving quickly past crumpled bodies.

But the casualties of war reach even farther than the bloody dead and wounded. Those casualties are written in scorched psyches and horrors that require years–and generations–to fade. In December of 1863, a woman from occupied Chattanooga wrote a letter to her mother, describing her feelings about the Federals all around.   

Yankee rule is nothing to boast of. It does not take but one person to make a trade. If you have an article they want, they’ll tell you so and take it. Ma, I never hated a race of people before and I do believe it would gladden my soul to see the last Yankee killed, man woman and child.

How many years, how many generations, does it require to erase hatred kindled by war’s unimaginable pain? It just so happens that today, the district’s Rep to Congress is Marjorie Taylor Greene. Make of that what you will.

And what about the Ukraine? Exact numbers are hard to get, but the estimates are dumbfounding: Ukrainians, about 10k; Russians, 200k. Survivors in Bakhmut, if there are any, are all casualties, aren’t they? 

Sometimes I can’t help thinking when people say “war is hell,” as they do, hell is no metaphor. 

Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t just pull over and read the Cherokee Ridge Hospital sign. Would be easy to miss. Sometimes I get the mistaken feeling that maybe we all would rather not know. 

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.


  • Ed Starkenburg says:

    Yes, it seems a good many of us don’t want to know or acknowledge parts of our history. That way, we don’t have to deal with this tragic stuff.

  • June says:

    I have no words for the horror of war. Today, just yours. We toured Gettysburg a few weeks ago. Placing oneself in the middle of it makes one want to run away. Which I did not. But so many questions for God. No answers.

  • Jack says:

    No words. 🥲

  • Al Schipper says:

    What is the lingering attraction? There are places that have preserved a reality that is beyond any possible metaphor. I recently learned that there are tombstones in SC inscribed with a prominent WNA – War of Northern Aggression.

  • Henry Baron says:

    No war, no matter how terrible, has ever persuaded the human race to go to war no more.
    Dumbfounding, yes!

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