Sunday, January 27, 2019

'Pilgrim to this shrine': Reporter's 1882 Lookout Mountain visit

A circa-1865 image of a woman in a mourning dress at Lookout Mountain. (Library of Congress)

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In the summer of 1881 and 1882, Philadelphia Times correspondent George Morgan toured Civil War battlefields in Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. Even nearly two decades after Lee surrendered to Grant, reminders of war -- earthworks, artillery shells, bullet-scarred trees and even human remains -- were not hard to find.

At a Seven Days battlefield near Richmond, Morgan visited with a farmer who found bones and buttons of a Federal soldier while digging post holes for a fence. At Franklin, Tenn., a man who lived through the five-hour battle told Morgan of scraping "a half bushel of brains right around [his] house and the whole place was dyed with blood." At Chickamauga, site of a major Confederate victory in September 1863, he and his guide Tom found scores of empty soldier graves ... and two skulls in the woods.

During a visit to Lookout Mountain in September 1882, Morgan saw ruins of a war-time hospital, remains of Confederate breastworks and "the grave of a soldier whose bones had been found bleaching in the sun."

"Evidences of Hooker's Poetic Combat Still Found," read a headline on Morgan's Page 1 story in the Philadelphia Times on Sept. 11, 1882. Major General Joseph Hooker led Union troops to victory at Lookout Mountain -- the "Battle Above the Clouds" --- on Nov. 24, 1863.

Unsurprisingly, the spectacular view from Lookout Mountain's summit made the visit truly memorable for Morgan, a gifted writer.

 "Many hundred feet below appeared the valley of the Chattanooga, with its smoky Pittsburg of the South, Lookout Valley, Moccasin Bend, cut by the river into the exact shape of an Indian shoe, and the Tennessee, now as narrow and as lovely as a bit of bright ribbon encircling the throat of one's ladylove," he eloquently wrote. "But there is no space to tell of the parts of a panorama worth the looking at for a whole summer."

Here's Morgan's Lookout Mountain account published in the Philadelphia Times on Sept. 11, 1882.

Special Correspondence of The Times. 

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., September 6

As the pilgrim to this shrine of battle-song and story glances between the curtains of his bed chamber in the early morning he sees a sight worth walking through a wilderness to see -- a huge pile of a mountain, ranged in oblong outline against the sky and jutting in bold mass upon one of the grand rivers of the continent. The highlands around seem jumbled in heaps and dwarfed by the bulk of this giant among them, for Lookout stands a stronghold of strongholds, overshadowing all. What perfect Mother Nature left undone for this freak of her fancy, faulty Joe Hooker made up. giving the great rock its place in poetic chronicle.

Up Lookout in the morning

With a lad of light weight to drive and mass of muscles on four legs to draw, our buggy rolled in the dust of Whiteside street out of the town to the mountain's base. There the boy, alighting, seized a bucket and doused the fore shoulders of the steed with cooling spring-water, an odd bit of grooming that seemed a prelude to heavy work. At a twist of the ribbons and a chirruping whistle the horse then took with a bound the old Summertown road that leads from the edge of Chattanooga up the eastern slope to the summit.

For a few hundred feet the ascent was easy, but after that the grade got to be steep. We had not been five minutes on the way up, indeed, before the lad drew in his reins to give the beast a chance to blow. From that first point of rest until the dead pull was over we halted at intervals of from one to six minutes. As we stood by the Three Sisters -- three saplings growing less gracefully than sturdily from one stump -- I took pains to watch the horse through the spectacles of a Bergh. The animal, steaming with sweat, panted as though he had chase the fox in a breakneck run over mead, mound and ditch. His quick breathing jerked the buggy in little palpitations to and fro. Lather whitened his buttocks and, as with the fat and greasy citizen of melancholy Jacques, in Arden forest:

The wretched animal heaved forth such groans
That their discharge did stretch his leathern coat
Almost to bursting; and the big round tears
Coursed one another down his innocent nose 
In piteous chase.

               PANORAMA: The view of the Tennessee River and Chattanooga from near
             Lookout Mountain summit. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

A long pull up grade

But this Lookout Mountain horse was not only used to the work, but equal to it, and no doubt his oats were all the more toothsome on account of it. Sympathetic notions with respect to the strong fellow in harness did not keep me from catching glimpses of the fine pictures now and then revealed at breaks in the mountainside forest. We passed upward, winding around to gain a better angle of ascent, moving slowly through oaks that half screened the sky, grazing boulders whereon the person of patent pills had set his stamp and looking back now and then at the glories of the valley, getting to be away down there in the bottom of things. Brown cliffs could be seen high up on our right, even when we were near the crest and these we avoided by skirting southward, to come at last slowly to the top. In just one hour and a quarter from the time of the start the horse stuck his nose in the water-trough at the summit toll-house. When we left the valley a cloud settled down below the crest, and I was eager to get into it before the sun should scatter its folds, but, looking for it as the horse drank, I saw no sign of mist save beads of water on the grass.

Sights on the summit

In this 1864 photograph, a man shows no fear at Umbrella Rock on Lookout Mountain.
(Library of Congress)
Folks in fine duds, elderly women with curls and gold-rimmed glasses, young women in frill and feathers and their attending creatures in coats, were strolling on the lawn of a mountain hotel near by -- for several hundred loiterers have, passed the summer at resorts on the summit. I was surprised, moreover, to find that a long line of farms stretch along the Lookout crest southward thirty miles or more. All around one may see wonderful objects moulded by the great hand that built the hill itself. A party of nice girls in real old rebel jib-bonnets could have told me, if they had stopped to talk, how they had just been over at Saddle Rock for a ride on the back of the giant steed; of Umbrella Rock, so built in the upheaval of things that a party may remain comfortable under it even should it rain pitchforks; of Pulpit Rock, whereof the only orator is the chattering squirrel, preaching his little sermon to a world below; of the City of Stone; or, last of all, of that cliff from which a young Pennsylvanian fell headlong to death, bedewing his shroud of honorable blue with his own hearts red.

Pulpit Rock, one of the many locations on Lookout Mountain popular for photography. This is
a 19th-century image. 

Earthworks across the crest

This whole northern end of Lookout is as full of Dame Nature's curious finger marks as it is free from that which I expected to find -- heel prints of Hooker's grand battle above the clouds. The Old Man of the Mountain, with forehead, eyes, nose and chin of stone, not to mention a harder cheek than Hubbell's, is here. One may sip sweet spring water as he looks at a natural bridge, or talks by natural telephone through the heart of an immense rock, and a cataract leaping down the mountain offers solace to the soul; but evidences of the fight are as scarce as dead men on an Egyptian battlefield. Still, some war relics do exist here. At the natural City of Rocks I found the ruins of the hospital put up by General [George] Thomas, when General [John] King, with four regiments, was encamped at that point; and beyond the ruins of Summertown, once a famous Southern resort, we struck a strong line of Confederate earthworks. This line remains about as it was when General [Carter] Stevenson, whom  Hooker drove from the mountain, held it.

Widow Whiteside's big dog

Hiding a few hundred yards further we suddenly came to a closed gate. A bull-dog with jowls as heavy as his ears and fangs seemingly as strong as Vulcan's pincers met us, for the wealthy Widow Whiteside takes toll of all persons who pass within. She owned this part of the mountain at the time of the battle and her revenue thus gained on the crest, with that flowing in from lunch property in Chattanooga, makes her income larger than that of any other person in the Chattanooga corner of Tennessee. No one may pass the bull-dog and the gate without flipping a quarter to the mulatto girl who soon appeared, nor by some arrangement can any teams except those from a certain livery stable pass to the Point, the very gem of the mountain, a minute's ride beyond.

A picture of glories

The spectacular view from near the summit of Lookout Mountain.
When we hitched the horse in a grove at the Point and walked out upon the extreme cliff the sight was found to be worth a cartload of quarters. All around the sky-line were mountains, far off and hazy -- the peaks of the Carolina, Kentucky's blue ridges, the great knobs of Georgia, Alabama's lines of hills and the nearer highlands of Tennessee. Many hundred feet below appeared the valley of the Chattanooga, with its smoky Pittsburg of the South, Lookout Valley, Moccasin Bend, cut by the river into the exact shape of an Indian shoe, and the Tennessee, now as narrow and as lovely as a bit of bright ribbon encircling the throat of one's ladylove. But there is no space to tell of the parts of a panorama worth the looking at for a whole summer. What I was bound by business to regard particularly was nearer than the valleys and the river, the Craven plateau, upon which it seemed as though I might pitch a walnut, for it was on the mountain side a few hundred feet below the cliff upon which I stood. There the battle among the clouds was fought, if such a battle there was.

The fighting was done

Robert Cravens house, the vortex of the Battle of Lookout Mountain on Nov. 29, 1863. The house 
was destroyed during the battle and rebuilt.
It was upon the level ledge, at Craven's place, whither I went in the afternoon, that the main action came about, and it is here that most of the signs of the fight are to be found. I was in ill-luck as to meeting the aged owner of the high-land farm, nor was there any person around able to give me as good an understanding of the place as I hoped to get. The darkey, who had displaced the sleepy boy of the morning ascent, knew a great deal worth telling, though, and told well what be did know. Mr. Craven, who was on the ground in the midst of the attack, has said that he gathered nearly two thousand pounds of iron and lead on his place after the storm had swept by. Such relics are yet to be picked up, while the stone breastworks stand just about as they did when [Confederate General Edward] Walthal abandoned them to get out of Hooker's way. The guide showed me the grave of a soldier whose bones had been found bleaching in the sun on the mountain side, and I did not fail to see a curious alpenstock, made from a staff and bayonet and used in clambering up the slope.

Present-day view of the remains of  Confederate stone breastworks in the woods near the Cravens house.

Sharp briar's thunder

Back among the years when the greenwood had more magnolias and fewer axe-marks, when our grandfathers sweetened their Sundays with soft kisses and hard cider, with every goose a swan and every lass a queen, a certain old Cherokee lived in a cabin on the Lookout Summit. Sharp Briar had seen enough of the ways of the pale face to want his children to be civilized, and yet he loved to thrill them with stories of the chase, the bite of the arrow, the leap from the precipice and the warm blood of the buck dripping into pools at the loot  of the cliff. So it happened that one day Chief John Ross heard Sharp Briar tell the voting men how thunder had hurled an oak from the mountain top clear into the Tennessee, two miles below.

Union General Joseph Hooker
led the attack on Lookout Mountain.
(Library of Congress)

"Brother," said Ross, whose English was as pure as his heart, "thunder does no harm; the white fire that flies ahead kills and the noise is as empty as the head of a Seminole."

"Hoch!" grunted the old man; "No, killin' thunder?"

"No: thunder does not kill."

 Sharp Briar was loth to take such science home to his children, nor did he ever reach them with it, for he was dashed that night from Sunset Rock by a thunderbolt that shook the mighty mountain. In like manner was poor old Joe Hooker taken back. I thought, as 1 sat on the porch of the little house at the Point and took the yarn in at one ear not to let it out at the other.

The poetic battle of the war

Here had Hooker fought his battle with the clouds around him -- an action in mid-air, a fierce combat even hard by the very archway of the upper world -- and prosy Grant, with the glory of a dozen victories reflected from his shining blade, came to say that no battle ever was fought on Lookout -- that there was no "killing thunder" in that air on the 24th of November, 1863. I beg to put it down in black and white, that even though the fight was a heavy skirmish only, it is likely to be written about even above the grimness of Vicksburg, the havoc of Spottsylvania or the masterly work on the Appomattox. Hooker's men pressed into dark finds of mist, breasted hidden foes, took iron hail thundered down in battle smoke from batteries overhead, and in the midst of satanic uproar won the great stronghold.


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